Aboriginal Awareness Week: Getting better (and bigger) all the time

Running from Sept. 24-28, McGill's second annual Aboriginal Awareness Week will offer people a wide range of events, from workshops on how to make dreamcatchers to photography exhibits to a community feast to mark the week's end.

By Neale McDevitt

On the eve of the second annual Aboriginal Awareness Week (from Sept. 24-28), organizer Allan Vicaire believes that the event is already living up to its mandate, as spelled out in its title. While he worked with partners in organizing last year’s first Awareness Week, he basically put together the entire schedule of events himself. This year, he estimates some 40 per cent of the program has been conceived and organized by other partners in the community within the Roddick Gates and beyond.

“Obviously, a big part of the programming is geared toward enhancing the presence of Aboriginal peoples in the McGill and Montreal community through educational and cultural activities,” said the Project Coordinator – Aboriginal Sustainability Project and a member of the Listuguj Mi’kmaq First Nation. “We want people to learn about us, but we also want to learn about ourselves.

“Last year a lot of indigenous students came to Awareness Week but they didn’t necessarily help organize anything,” said Vicaire from McGill’s Social Equity and Diversity Education Office (SEDE). “This year the three indigenous students associations on campus – the Indigenous Student Alliance; the Aboriginal Law Students Association; and KANATA – all put together an event of their own.”

The week will give participants the opportunity to learn about the cultures and traditions of Aboriginal peoples. Events will include dreamcatcher making workshops; a rhythm night showcasing local performers; a play about the repercussions felt by Aboriginal children who were taken from their families and installed in Residential Schools; and the screening of the film Creator’s Game, The Quest for Gold and the Fight for Nationhood, a documentary that follows the Iroquois Nationals on their hunt for the gold medal at the 2011 lacrosse world championships in Prague.

While many of the events will take place in various locations on campus, others, such as the tour of the Kahnawake Cultural Centre; the photography exhibition at the McCord Museum; and the week-ending Community and Social Feast, will take happen off University grounds.

One of the big changes from last year that the annual Pow Wow, organized by McGill’s First People’s House, will be held before Awareness Week instead of at the end of the event. “Last year a number of students went to the Pow Wow and said ‘This is cool. What else is happening?’ But, of course, Aboriginal Awareness Week had just finished,” said Vicaire. “The Pow Wow is such a big event that we hope it will generate even more interest in next week’s activities.”

The Pow Wow will take place tomorrow (Friday, Sept. 21) on lower campus from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. and will include Aboriginal music and dancing, arts and crafts, information kiosks and Lacrosse demonstrations. For more information go here.

While organizing Aborignal Awareness Week has been foremost on Vicaire’s mind of late, it is just one part of his broader mandate. “While it is an important component, my job is a lot more than lining up guest lecturers,” he said. “I’m also working with various faculties to provide internship opportunities for indigenous students and with Human Resources to try and increase the candidate pool for Aboriginal applicants for various positions, among other things. We’re also gearing up for our Homework Help program starting Oct. 4, where McGill students volunteer their time as tutors in various Kahnawake schools. We’re really busy, but busy is good.”

For more information on Aboriginal Awareness Week, including the full schedule of events, go here.