National Indigenous Day 2016

Shelley Jones

June 21, 2016 marked the 20th year of National Indigenous Day. Royal Roads University hosted its annual National Indigenous Day event to celebrate. The brilliant (if breezy!) day was full of activities: Indigenous art and artifacts, canoe rides around the lagoon, guided walks through Charlie’s Trail and the along the shoreline, craft-making and a superb feast of Indigenous food were enjoyed by all. In addition to on-campus visitors, many members of the local community – including more than 100 children from John Stubbs Elementary Rockheights Middle schools joined us for festivities.

National Indigenous Day at RRU also had a uniquely intercultural approach this year. Asma-na-hi Antoine, Indigenous Education and Student Services Manager, and Shelley Jones, Program Head of the International Year One program, worked together to engage International Year One (IY1) students from Brazil, China, Taiwan, Ukraine, and Vietnam in projects to support the event. Fifteen teams of students assumed responsibilities ranging from helping with food and beverages, to grounds organization, to craft-making, to support for vendors, to marketing, promotion, and communication. Students had the opportunity to gain first-hand knowledge and experience of aspects of First Nations culture and work with Indigenous community members to facilitate the event. It was a rich and rewarding experience for everyone.

 Jessica Sault and Food + Beverage TeamsFry bread stationFood preparation

Jessica Sault from See-Foods Catering was pleased with the student’s enthusiasm, dedication, and respect for the food processing and handling. And the students on the food and beverage teams were were delighted to have had the opportunity to work with Jessica. Xiolan (Bella) Yan, from China, said, “…the experience that working with Jessica was awesome, she is a really nice person…And the food was amazing, I really appreciate the chance to work with her.” Phuong Thanh (Jane) Vu, from Vietnam, reflected on how this experience helped her understand more about Indigenous culture as well as prepare her for her future career: “Thanks for the Indigenous day that helped me gain more knowledge about First Nation people and their culture in general, as well as opened my mind on Food and Drink sector in Hospitality Management Job, which is my future career. All the happy smiles and the excitement on the food of the customers has really made my day.” And, Kateryna Paliukh, from Ukraine, reflected on the many positive life lessons of this experience: “Working in a food and beverage team was a great experience for me. Jessica was a great teacher, leader, and person….In my opinion, for our group, it was a great life lesson of organization and hosting an event. Under Jessica's and Asma's leadership we were able to show our creativity and also learn a lot about Aboriginal culture and traditions. I believe we will cherish this experience and emotions that we got from people who attended the event.”

Kenneth Elliot and Charlie's Trail team

Kenneth Elliot from Cowichan Tribes, an Indigenous botanist and a veteran guide who leads educational walks through Charlie’s Trail and along the coastline, was full of praise for the teams he worked with: “The students really opened their hearts and allowed the knowledge to come in. They made connections between the Indigenous relationship with nature here, and the relationships with nature in their home countries. I was so impressed with them.” Zibo (Dillon) Yan, IY1 student from China, who worked with Kenneth on Charlie’s Trail said, “We have deeper understanding about how First Nation people interact with the natural environment. I also find many similarities between Chinese traditions and first nation' knowledge, and just like what Kenneth said ‘we [are] all the same’". Angel, who worked with Kenneth on the Coastal Walk remarked, “I learned so much about plants from Kenneth”, and her teammate, Carol, said, “It was so interesting to learn about how Indigenous Peoples use plants in their lives.”

These kinds of meaningful intercultural and interpersonal exchanges demonstrate that Indigenizing the Academy can indeed be actualized: non-Indigenous campus and off-campus communities can work as allies with Indigenous leaders and have the opportunity to learn about and embrace Indigenous knowledge and ways of knowing. Such open-hearted teaching and learning has the power to transform the ways in which we understand and engage in the world and lead us along pathways to true global citizenship.

THANK YOU’s: A huge thank you to IY1 Students, Cindy Brar, Krissy Yang, Production Team, Paul Allison and the Gardeners’ Team, Campus Security and Campus Services for all your assistance that supported Asma-na-hi and Shelley! We would like to also extend a huge thank you to Power to Be, who continue to support us in the work we do at RRU, as well as the local vendors who shared their art, crafts and creative energy. Finally, we want to thank Karen Robertson and the Royal Bank of Canada for their kind donation and contribution to this event.

Next year’s National Indigenous Day celebration on June 21, 2017 will be an exciting event involving Canoe Races, so if you are interested in becoming involved, you are welcome to join the planning committee!

 Photo credit: Kateryna Paliukh