On September 10, three days into the new school year, the Acadia Students’ Union (ASU) hosted Indspire Acadia as a means to promote conversation and dialogue among members of the Acadia community on reconciliation with Canada’s Indigenous peoples.
Sparked by a desire to expand the conversation around reconciliation on campus, ASU Chairperson Oliver Jacob and Equity Officer Dena Williams spearheaded the initiative with the help of Donna Hurlburt, Acadia’s Aboriginal Students’ Advisor. “There is a Presidential Advisory Committee on Decolonization on campus that’s relatively new to Acadia. It was formed only last year,” Jacob said. “We wanted to jump off that and do something to keep the conversation going and focus on what faculty, staff and students can do and the conversations that should be started by them.”
The day-long program was packed full of activities, including: an introduction to and demonstrations of Indigenous arts and culture; a discussion on reconciliation; a Blanket Exercise; a Medicine Walk; and a bonfire with traditional storytelling to end the day. Members from local Indigenous groups were present to share their knowledge and included Mi’kmaq artist Melissa Labrador, Education Director for the Native Council of Nova Scotia April Hiltz, Mi’kmaq elders Viola Robinson and Joe B. Marshall, traditional medicine-maker Laurie Lacey, and Bear River First Nation storyteller Shalan Jodrey.
Approximately 60 students, staff and faculty attended the discussion on reconciliation, which focused on the big idea question, ‘What does reconciliation mean to Acadia?’
“We had facilitators from the ASU Students’ Representative Council lead the discussion so Aboriginal students in attendance could feel comfortable sharing their perspectives rather than leading the conversation,” Jacob said. “A lot of the non-Indigenous students spent time listening before sharing their opinions. They really seemed to appreciate the perspective of the Indigenous students and wanted to know what they could do.”
The session created a safe space for participants to share thoughts and opinions on what reconciliation means, and having a mix of students, faculty and staff allowed different perspectives to be shared. Ideas were written on sticky notes and handed to Think Link graphic artist Disa Kauk, who, throughout the discussion, worked on a graphic representation of ideas. Participants made a number of suggestions about how Acadia can support reconciliation, including: creating courses on Indigenous studies; creating permanent structures and support for Indigenous people on campus; and developing learning workshops.
One of the Indspire Acadia participants was Acadia University’s President and Vice Chancellor Dr. Peter Ricketts. Before joining Acadia in July of this year, Ricketts was instrumental in developing Indigenous programming when he was Vice-President Academic and Provost at Carleton University in Ottawa.
"As Senator Murray Sinclair, chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), said, education is what got us into this mess and education is what will get us out,” said Ricketts. “Our students hold the hope for a better future and I am so proud of the Acadia Students Association for organizing this Indspire Acadia event, and for being such an important part of the process to determine Acadia's appropriate response to the challenges of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission."
However, reconciliation “is a long-term process that deserves the dedication and commitment of various actors, including students, faculty, staff, administration and Indigenous community members to be successful,” Jacob said. “Indspire Acadia started the conversation and we look forward to seeing where it will lead on the path toward reconciliation with Canada's Indigenous peoples.”
The ASU will hold a second Indspire Acadia event in the New Year that will focus on mental health from an Indigenous perspective.
Pictured top, participants gather before taking part in the Blanket Exercise outside of University Hall. Photo by Harrison Paul.
Pictured above, graphic representation from the discussion on reconciliation.