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Daphne Kay poses in front of a buffalo hide.

Smudging. Round Dances. Feasting. These are just some of the traditions practiced by Canada’s Aboriginal cultures.

 

This is something that the University of Regina looks to emphasize with its recent 2015-2020 strategic plan entitled Peyak Aski Kikawinaw, or “We are one with Mother Earth”.

 

The plan has been designed to both recognize indigenous culture as well as create an environment for indigenous students to learn and prosper. 

 

Shauneen Pete, executive lead of indigenization at the university, said the initiative has been set out with clear goals. “It has three key areas. One is student success, the other one is community engagement, and research impact,” she said.

 

Indigenization is a term often associated with the strategic plan. “We define it as the transformation of the university. We are wanting to make some really profound changes to the academic program, to the communities we engage with, to the types of supports we provide for students and the kinds of research we engage in,” said Pete.

 

“I love it. I think it’s a great way to be inclusive and I think it’s really long overdue,” said Daphne Kay, a fourth year political science student. “If you don’t feel accepted or welcome some place, you don’t want to stay there. That’s why a lot of people drop out of university, because they don’t see themselves in the institution that they are learning at.”

 

The process is not without its challenges, however. Kay explained the effects of colonialism are still felt today. “Our whole society is steeped in this colonialism. We don’t even know half the time if we are being racist or if that is inappropriate. It’s the society we live in. It’s okay to play cowboys and Indians because our grandparents and our great-great-grandparents played that game and where not looked down upon,” she said.

 

Kay added many people feel the term itself is wrongfully viewed by some as an attempt to white-wash the university. “This indigenization process isn’t a takeover; it’s just reflecting and giving thanks to the people that were on these lands before,” she said.

 

Pete said the university community is employing different techniques in the application of the plan. "Bringing Elders into classrooms is a way of decolonizing, for example. Changing what course outlines look like, what the content is. It goes so far as to work towards a representative workforce.”

 

Recently, new rules have opened the door to on-campus smudging and feasting. Smudging is a ceremony in which sweet grass is burned and the smoke moves over the body. The ceremony is used by many aboriginal people. However, until recently, rules banned the burning of sweet grass on campus, and limited the ability to feast by forbidding outside food on campus.

 

“It’s in our culture to have feast, to give thanks. It’s also within our culture to smudge every day.” said Kay. “A lot of these cultural events were pushed aside. (People said,)‘Go do it at FNU’ There was that barrier there for awhile, but I think with the indigenization process, people feel more comfortable going to both campuses because that cultural inclusivity is at both campuses now.”

 

The program has also worked closely with various departments to bring indigenization into the classroom. Pete said the goal is not just to create an academic environment for indigenous students, but also to give a better understanding of indigenous culture to all students.

 

Kay noted the importance of having places and programs like the Aboriginal Student Center. She recalled her first visit to the ASC. “I was just blown away because someone cared enough to know about me to showcase my identity and really celebrate who I am and where I come from,” she said.

 

“Most people have been structurally denied the opportunity to learn about aboriginal people. it’s a little bit difficult for them to understand the social inequalities that persist here,” Pete said.

 

“For me, this type of work is really the foundation for achieving reconciliation in my lifetime.”