Indigenous Community

Saint Mary’s collaboration with Innu Nation seen in documentary film screening

The rain could not keep a full house away from Halifax Central Library’s Paul O'Regan Hall on Nov. 3, 2018. Saint Mary’s faculty, Innu Nation, and members of the local community came to hear the story of Newfoundland and Labrador’s Innu Nation. The documentary screening of “Nakatuenita: Respect,” was co-produced by Richard Nuna, Innu Nation, and Dr. Trudy Sable, Community Conservation Research Network - Saint Mary's University and directed by filmmaker Kent Martin. 

The evening began with a traditional Mi’kmaw prayer by Mi’kmaw elder Thomas Christmas and Mi’Kmaw song to welcome participants onto traditional Mi’kmaq territory. Innu Nation’s Grand Chief, Gregory Rich, Dr. Trudy Sable, Saint Mary’s Community Engaged Research Facilitator and Saint Mary’s Vice-President, Dr. Malcolm Butler also welcomed the crowd.

Throughout the screening you could hear engaged asides between front-row members of the crowd.. The film – which ended in a standing ovation – tells the story of Ntesinan, a once peaceful territory where Innu families lived in tents, hunted for survival, and learned “Nutshimit” (country) skills and the fragile relationship between humans and animals from their elders. Their culture is one of respect – respect for the land, plants, animals and each other.

Although the memories of the past remain strong, the Innu now adapt to cultural and spiritual disruption. In the mid 20th century, they were forced to settle into communities by the governments and the church.  A significant part of their territory (later flooded by The Churchill Falls Hydro Project) changed the great falls known to the Innu as “Mista Shipu” forever.

“This film is a very powerful and moving testament to the impact that resettlement, development and climate change has had on Indigenous culture and communities,” said Dr. Butler.

Successful in taking control of their schools in 2009 and income support two years ago, the Innu look to the future of their land, social services, schools and government.

“Their resilience has amazed me in the face of so many forces that have tried to undermine who they are as a people, deeply and spiritually connected to their lands and to the animals. We have much to learn about how to truly work together in collaboration and mutual benefit,” said Dr. Sable.

In the meantime, the answer for Grand Chief Gregory Rich is clear.

“The film is a message of the struggle today for the Innu people. Our connection is to the lands, to the animals, and it has been our culture for many, many years. I know we can not go back to how it was before, but to be part of the land and the animals is the answer to our struggles, Ntesinan,” said Grand Chief Rich.

October is Mi’kmaq History Month

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October is Mi’kmaq History Month in Nova Scotia. Mi’kmaq History Month builds awareness of Mi’kmaq history and heritage, and celebrates Mi’kmaq culture.

In 1993, Premier John Savage and Mi’kmaw Grand Chief Ben Sylliboy declared October as the official month to recognize and celebrate Mi’kmaw culture and heritage.

October 1, Treaty Day, marks the beginning of Mi'kmaq History Month. There are a variety of events occurring this month on campus and all across Nova Scotia.

Here are some of the events taking place on campus:

  • A tour at the art gallery of #callresponse on Wednesday, October 3 at 12 p.m.

  • The SMU Indigenous Blanket Exercise on Friday, October 5 at 10 a.m.

  • The Mi'kmaq Flag Raising taking place on Thursday, October 11 at 12 p.m.

For more information on events taking place across campus, visit the SMU events calendar.

The complete list of events occurring across Nova Scotia can be found on the Mi’kmaq History Month events calendar. More information on the month can be found here.

Dr. Val Marie Johnson helps repatriate Inuit cultural materials in the Northwest Territories

 Dr. Val Marie Johnson

Dr. Val Marie Johnson

Earlier this month, with funding from the Saint Mary's University Dean of Research and Dean of Arts, Dr. Val Marie Johnson—of the newly created Department of Social Justice & Community Studies—undertook a Community Research Outreach trip to Inuvik and Aklavik, in the homelands of the Inuvialuit and Gwich’in peoples in the Northwest Territories.

The principal purpose of Dr. Johnson’s trip was to share with community members her historical research on Shingle Point Eskimo Residential School, which operated in the region from 1929 to 1936, and to negotiate the return of copies of archival material documenting the School’s students and staff.

The materials shared with community members included many photos of the School’s students and staff, students’ colouring and drawings, staff and student letters, and School records on students. Dr. Johnson discovered the material in her research on relations between white women staff and Inuvialuit, Inuinnait, Iñupiat, and Gwich’in students and staff at the School.

"It's the living history of this region," Dr. Johnson told CBC North Radio while she was in Inuvik. "My desire is to have this material accessible to people whose living history this involves, as much as possible."

This cultural repatriation of the material is being arranged by collaboration between Dr. Johnson, the Anglican Church of Canada General Synod Archives in Toronto, where the material is now housed, and the Inuvialuit Cultural Resource Centre in Inuvik. The Anglican Church operated the School.

Dr. Johnson also visited with community Elders and descendants of former Shingle Point students, and hosted community events in Inuvik and Aklavik about her research, the materials, and the plans for their new accessibility to community members in the region.

Raymond Sewell joins Saint Mary’s as full-time Indigenous Student Advisor

Saint Mary’s University is pleased to announce that Raymond Sewell has joined the university as the institution’s first full-time Indigenous student advisor.

“At Saint Mary’s University, we are committed to improving the educational experience of all our students,” said Saint Mary’s president Robert Summerby-Murray. “In response to our own task force on Indigenous students and the federal report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, we recognize that universities have a significant role to play. We are acting to foster an environment that reflects the important cultures, histories and traditions of Indigenous students.”

The Indigenous student advisor is responsible for supporting and engaging Indigenous students at Saint Mary’s University. Sewell will develop programming and services for Indigenous students; make connections to facilitate the transition of Indigenous students to university; and develop culturally respectful programming to engage Indigenous students in campus life throughout their university career.

Sewell is a Saint Mary’s alumnus who completed his Master of Arts in Atlantic Canada Studies in 2014. From the Pabineau First Nation in New Brunswick, Sewell has experienced firsthand the transition from a First Nation’s community to university in a new city.

“For many students coming from Indigenous communities, university can be a big transition. You are leaving behind your community and family and coming to a new city.  It can be a bit of a culture shock,” said Sewell. “Part of my role will be helping students with that change, but also providing more general support to make sure that they have the tools they need to be successful at Saint Mary’s.” 

Sewell will join Saint Mary’s in his new role today, Sept. 18.

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