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Powwow promotes cultural understanding

Ryan Reisert

A lively combination of drumming, dancing, and booths adorned with native art drew a large crowd to Lower Field on Friday.

“I was just coming from my bio lab, and I heard all of the music, so I came by to check it out,” said Kevin Dick, a U1 biology major making his way through the festivities.

The spectacle was McGill’s tenth annual powwow, an event put on each year by the school’s First Peoples’ House to educate McGillians about Canadian aboriginal heritage.

“I think it’s perfect,” Dick said of the event. “It’s a good way to get people out [and] introduce them to this type of culture.”

This year’s powwow was part of a broader, week-long project: the university’s first ever Aboriginal Awareness Week (AAW), which ran from Sept. 12 to 15.

Aboriginal Awareness Week is intended to provide greater opportunities for non-aboriginal students to learn about and engage in aboriginal traditions.

According to the Arts Undergraduate Society, the focus of the week was to showcase First Nations cultures and values in a manner that encouraged collaboration with partners in the community.

“This week-long event also stems from a broader effort to increase both understanding of and appreciation for aboriginal perspectives and values in higher learning institutions,” read a promotion in last week’s AUS listserv.

Paige Isaac, co-ordinator of the First Peoples’ House and chief planner for the project, stressed the importance of the aboriginal community’s presence on campus for more than just one day a year.

“With four days of events, we wanted to target the whole campus to learn about different issues other than just dancing and singing,” Isaac said.

All events were free and open to the public, and included two nights of music and spoken word from aboriginal artists, a stone carving workshop, a media panel on representations of aboriginals in public spaces, a book reading by broadcast journalist Waubgeshig Issac, as well as a closing feast. The finale was a  powwow on lower field.

Supporters of the project included the First Peoples’ House, the Social Equity and Diversity Education Office (SEDE), the Office of the Dean of Students (represented by the Aboriginal Outreach Coordinator) and the Office of Sustainability at McGill.

“The school has always been very open and well-receiving of our people,” said Lance Delisle, the powwow’s MC. “Every single year it’s very well received and that attests to McGill University and exactly what type of school this is: very diverse and open to new ideas.”

The First Peoples’ House plans to keep the momentum of Aboriginal Awareness Week going with a series of monthly events. The next one will be held in October.

“We want to meet as many students as we can and we want everyone to share and learn and engage,” said Isaac.

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