U of M celebrates inaugural Indigenous students’ month with workshops, lectures, performances and more

The U of M celebrated its first annual Indigenous students’ month in November.

Those who identify either as Indigenous or non-Indigenous were invited to participate in various student-led activities and events, including Indigenous-focused discussions, a lecture series, performances and workshops across the Fort Garry campus.

Alicia Kubrakovich — UMSU’s Indigenous community representative and female co-president of the University of Manitoba Indigenous Students’ Association (UMISA) — said “We wanted to do something similar to Indigenous awareness month [which occurs in March] but not take over the idea.”

“There’s a lot of success, especially in our Indigenous community — it’s time that we start honouring a lot of our students here,” she added.

Throughout November, Indigenous student groups — including UMISA along with the Womxn’s Council, the University of Manitoba Indigenous Concerns on the Environment (UMICE) group and the Métis University Students’ Association (MUSA) — tabled every Wednesday in UMSU University Centre. The tabling aimed to engage students in the community and raise awareness of resources such as UMISA and MUSA to advocate for, and give a sense of belonging to, Indigenous students.

Kubrakovich said she has already noticed an increase in memberships and volunteers in the student groups since tabling wrapped up.

UMISA hosted an Indigenous women’s leadership panel discussion at IQ’s Café and Billiards Nov. 19. The panel included Wendy Whitecloud, director of the academic support program in the faculty of law at the U of M; Stephanie Scott, director of operations at the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation; Nikki Komaksiutiksak, an Inuit throat singer who testified at the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls inquiry in 2018 and Alannah Mckay, a former UMISA co-president who now serves as treasurer for the Canadian Federation of Students — Manitoba.

Kubrakovich said she was shocked by the turnout for the panel “as soon as we opened the doors.”

“I just remember looking into the crowd and there was a lot of people and I was so surprised,” she said. “I’m still in awe.”

 

New student groups emerge

The environmentally-focused UMICE is a new student group this year and is open to both Indigenous and non-Indigenous students. President Taylor Galvin shared in a statement that she started the group “to introduce traditional practices to environmental science and studies students at the university.”

Galvin said she saw a lot of interest from the start.

“The purpose of UMICE is to connect with students, culture, land, wildlife, elders and to grow the Indigenous community in the environment department,” said Galvin.

UMICE hosted Baanizhaawe Nov. 13. The word means to cut meat and fillet fish in Anishinaabemowin. The event was the “first event of its kind to ever happen at the University of Manitoba,” said Galvin.

UMICE worked with Elder Ron Guimond to teach students and staff how to skin a deer and make different cuts of meat. The student group also brought in Gena Chartier who taught how to clean and fillet whitefish and goldeye. The full-day activity saw students across various faculties, including engineering and social work, take part.

UMICE will be hosting a traditional feast, which will include the deer meat, today at 5 p.m. in Migizii Agamik. It is open to both Indigenous and non-Indigenous students who can attend by contacting UMICE and registering.

 

Student discussions

Kirsten Fleury — female co-president of MUSA and a research assistant for Michelle Driedger, a professor in the department of community health sciences — held a Nov. 20 talk in Migizii Agamik discussing the research project she is involved with, which focuses on Métis health and wellness.

Fleury’s research is being completed in partnership with the Manitoba Métis Federation (MMF) and involves hosting culture camps for Indigenous youth. The camps allow youth to spend a week living on the land and learning about harvesting, food, storytelling and music from Elders and community members.

In a statement, Fleury — who is Métis — said she chose this work “because I wanted to be able to gain research experience with a project that would allow me to work with people and communities as opposed to pursuing a more traditional science research project that would be based in a lab setting.”

Fleury’s presentation had about 13 people in attendance. She said she was happy to share her knowledge and experiences as a student.

“People seemed to genuinely be interested in what I had to say, and there were very thoughtful conversations and questions that came up during the question and discussion period,” she said.

“It was also nice to have the chance to share my experience with research and my experience as a student, and how research led me to connect with my identity as an Métis woman.”

Mamawipawin is an Indigenous governance and community-based research space at the U of M.

It was established in 2011 and was the first of its kind in the country. The department created a Miyo We’citowin series which started in October 2019.

It is a monthly student gathering which focuses on bringing students together to share their thoughts and interests in current government and political issues relating to Indigenous peoples.

Dane Monkman, lead research assistant for Mamawipawin, said in a statement that “It’s incredibly important for students to have a space to discuss these topics on campus, as it can sometimes connect the things we learn in the classroom to our experiences as Indigenous peoples.”

“Education can also unfortunately remove us from our communities, which is why the series has also tried to incorporate the experiences relevant to community-based work and struggles,” he said.

“We think this is especially relevant, as students often seek higher education to better their own communities.”

In November, the discussion revolved around Indigenous sovereignty, paying attention to the violent events happening in Bolivia, Chile and Ecuador. Monkman said he hopes to see new faces becoming involved and always welcomes students to the table.

Other notable events that took place were the Spirit of the Bison, Métis awareness Mondays from MMF Bison Local and UMISA Womxn’s Council ribbon skirt workshop in collaboration with the office of Indigenous engagement.