A recently-signed contract between the Glooscap First Nation and Acadia University is creating a one-of-a-kind model to support the indigenization of education on a Canadian campus.
In November 2019, Acadia welcomed the Indigenous community to War Memorial Gymnasium, with a Mawio’mi, featuring dancing, drumming, and cuisine. The celebration, also called a powwow, was organized by the Indigenous Students Society of Acadia to commemorate the signing of the landmark Memorandum of Understanding between Glooscap First Nation and Acadia University.
“This is a historic agreement for Acadia University and perhaps even in Canada,” says Dr. Peter Ricketts, Acadia’s President and Vice-Chancellor. “The fact that we have this unique partnership means that Acadia will be walking a path together with the Mi’kmaq toward truth and reconciliation.”
The MOU establishes a partnership that supports initiatives on campus important to Indigenous students and their culture with an emphasis on Mi’kmaq students. It also establishes a fulltime coordinator of Indigenous Affairs who reports to the chiefs and councils of the four Annapolis Valley Mi’kmaq communities and includes Mi’kmaq representatives on the Indigenous Education Advisory Committee at Acadia.
Zabrina Whitman, who serves in the coordinator role, says the establishment of the partnership and the newly defined position comes from a desire to change.
“Yes, there are Indigenous students on campus, but we have to work on building those relationships a little bit more to ensure that more positive changes happen,” she explains.
The partnership focuses on four areas of collaboration:
Chief Sidney Peters, from the Glooscap First Nation in Hantsport, was on hand to sign the MOU and addressed the crowd, saying: “Centuries ago, our collective ancestors, representing both the Mi’kmaq and the Crown, signed Peace and Friendship Treaties, acknowledging the rights and culture of the Mi’kmaq then. I am proud of the forward-thinking my ancestors had when signing the Treaties and we are continuing and interpreting that practice in our own way through this MOU.”
Mackenzie O’Quinn, President of the Indigenous Students Society of Acadia (ISSA) says he knows how important it is to feel accepted on campus as both a student and someone of Indigenous heritage. He feels all too often students like him feel the pull to choose one or the other. This MOU, however, levels the playing field.
“It’s not to say that this is the first time there have been Indigenous students at Acadia,” O’Quinn says, “but this is the first time that we’ve had the capacity to share our culture in this way.”