Dancing to a new beat brings awareness

Storyteller Darrel La France dressed in traditional eagle regalia at Aboriginal Awareness Day.
Storyteller Darrel La France dressed in traditional eagle regalia at Aboriginal Awareness Day.

It is more than feathers, beads and moccasins. It is a beat from a leather-skinned drum, shaking those around to the very core and connecting them to the earth. It is a call out in an old language sung with wooden, handcrafted instruments accompanied by a hoop dancer in traditional regalia.


It is a culture that celebrates the roots of human kind and relationship with nature, the foundation of Canadian heritage.


Durham College and UOIT hosted Aboriginal Awareness Day on Jan. 22 in the Campus Recreation and Wellness Centre.


The event featured traditional elements of Aboriginal culture including Inuit throat singers, a hoop dancer, and a performance by DNA Drum Group.


“Aboriginal people are still here in Canada,” says Claire Kearns, member of DNA Drum Group, an all-women’s drumming circle in the Durham Region. “People don’t realize it’s a living culture.”


According to Statistics Canada, the Aboriginal population was more than 1.4 million in 2011. Despite this, Julie Pigeon and Peggy Forbes, student advisors at Durham College, believe strong awareness and comprehension of the culture and customs is missing.


When the Grade 4/5 class from Sherwood Public School in Oshawa took a field trip to Durham College for the day and were asked about Aboriginal students at their school or what they knew about the culture, the room was silent.


Aboriginal Awareness Day is held with the intention to provide education about the culture. The event was open to everyone, regardless of their ethnic origins, to celebrate and partake in Aboriginal traditions.



“It’s important because it’s spreading awareness,” says Kelly Honsberger from The Metis Nation of Ontario. “It’s our heritage.”


This is the mantra held by The Suswaaning Endaajig Aboriginal Student Centre at Durham College. They welcome all students to their centre to learn about teachings from First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples.


The centre also strives for students of Aboriginal ancestry to self-identify.


According to Forbes, there is a lack of identification because of a stigma surrounding physical appearance. She points to Disney character Pocahontas as a common stereotype.


“I think because, thanks to Disney, people perceive that image as that’s what Aboriginal people look like,” says Forbes. “Otherwise if they don’t, they’re not here.”


The centre provides workshops throughout the year that share traditions and educate students. Events such as sharing circles, Full Moon ceremonies and smudging are conducted weekly and are intended to not only welcome students to a new culture, but to be a home away from home for Aboriginal students.


Storytelling is the foundation of Aboriginal culture. This teaching is emphasized at the centre was one of the main events at Aboriginal Awareness Day.


Storyteller Darrel La France enchanted the room with legends of bears and talking fish, yet the most memorable story he told was not with words.


He entered the room donned in huge feathers, a matching headdress, and with a strong black stripe across his face. La France was dressed in traditional eagle feather regalia.


The eagle is said to be the protector of the East in Aboriginal culture and is the symbol of power and freedom.


The story of the eagle lived vicariously throughout the Aboriginal Awareness Day, serving as a symbol of the true power of Aboriginal culture.