Members of local Indigenous communities and U of T Scarborough students, staff and faculty gathered for a historic event over the weekend — one filled with knowledge sharing, conversation and celebration of Indigenous history and culture.
Indig-U-Know, U of T Scarborough’s first Indigenous conference and powwow, was hosted by the Scarborough Campus Students Union (SCSU), with guidance from the campus’ elder, Wendy Phillips.
“One of our mandates for the year was to increase the celebration of Indigenous cultures and folks within our community,” says Ayaan Abdulle, the SCSU’s vice-president of academics and university affairs. “We definitely recognize that it was lacking to a degree.”
The first day of the conference consisted of four panels featuring faculty and guest speakers, including the Young Spirit Singers. The group, who are from Frog Lake, Alta., were Grammy-nominated for their album Mewasinsational – Cree Round Dance Songs this year.
On Sunday, the event became a day-long, powwow – a celebration of different Indigenous nations coming together to share their songs, drums and dance styles.
“We are strengthening initiatives that make our campus reflect the indigenous communities on whose territory it is located,” says Wisdom Tettey, vice-president and principal of U of T Scarborough. “The goal is to intimately embed indigenization into our academic pursuits and the daily experiences of our campus.”
Amongst the repertoire of dances performed at the powwow was the Women’s Traditional Style, which represents women’s connection to land. Performers dance with one foot always on the ground, symbolizing the relationship to the earth.
The vibrant and intricate regalia worn during the powwow are customized to the individual. The breastplate that women wear symbolizes their role as decision-makers. On Phillips’ regalia, the fringes represent water and symbolize women as givers of life.
“You see a lot of regalia out there and they tell a story about an individual, about the gifts that they have, or their name, or their nation, or things that they’ve done,” Phillips says. “It can be a very powerful story, and that is something that is beautiful if people have the opportunity to share it.”
Powwows also include different themes, such as healing or honouring elements of creation, like water. The theme of Indig-U-Know was exemplified in the title, and largely revolved around the education of Indigenous history, awareness and advocacy.
Part of upholding diversity on campus is creating spaces for communities to come together to celebrate their culture, while also having a platform to discuss history.
“The Scarborough Indigenous community doesn’t have a lot of resources to gather and have functions, so you don’t see a celebration like this one too often,” Phillips says.
“We felt it was important for us as an institution to bring the Indigenous and university communities together.”