As aboriginal populations continue to grow so too does their presence at colleges across the country. According to Statistics Canada more Aboriginal students are participating in post-secondary education and trade schools than ever before.
Here at Durham College, the Aboriginal Student Centre holds many events throughout the year to support aboriginal students and to help non-Aboriginal students make connections and learn about aboriginal culture.
Aboriginal Appreciation Day is an example one of those events, where elders, dancers, drummers, and storytellers gather with students to share in aboriginal culture.
One of the Anishinaabe cultural consultants partnered with the college is Kim Wheatley who is a member of the Ojibwe nation.
She attended Aboriginal Appreciation Day as a drummer and singer as well as an MC for the events that filled the gym. She also participates in many other events put on by the Aboriginal Student Centre.
She stressed the importance of supporting aboriginal students and promoting aboriginal awareness and cultural unity.
“Cross cultural sharing is the only way we’re going to come together as human beings,” Wheatley said.
Gatherings where students, whether aboriginal or not, can engage with aboriginal culture in the form of song, dance, and music as well as food and art is a part of this cultural sharing.
“Every time we have an opportunity to talk with others about who we are we try to share in that good way,” Wheatley said.
The historical value of aboriginal education isn’t far removed from these gatherings either. The defunct idea of the “disappearing Indian” that dominated political attitudes in the past still lingers, according to Wheatly. She said there are still people surprised to meet an aboriginal person.
Attending these events has a more direct impact as well. Wheatley says the continuation of oral tradition is very important to sharing aboriginal culture. Not only does oral tradition have a long history in aboriginal cultures but it engages listeners in a way that movies and books can’t. It is a more authentic experience that students can’t get without spending time among aboriginal people.
The ultimate goal is not only to support aboriginal students and educate others, it is to provide education and unity with non-aboriginal students as well.
“How can we make the human race better? By getting to know each other, develop relationships, remember to be kind to each other, and so when students come it’s their opportunity to talk with us, dance with us, and eat with us.”