When Janelle Kasperski arrived at McGill in November 2017, as the new Equity Educational Advisor in Indigenous Education working out of the Social Equity and Diversity Education Office (SEDE), one of her first thoughts was, “we need to expand Indigenous Awareness Week (IAW).”
“I saw how much good work had been done with IAW, and, as the events started rolling in and we started building partnerships with the different faculties and departments at McGill, I realized how difficult it was going to be to cram everything into one week,” she says.
As a result, the eighth iteration of Indigenous Awareness Weeks will be spaced out over two full weeks, from Sept. 17–28.
Celebration of Indigenous success
This year’s lineup features a wide array of events, including prestigious speakers, panel discussions, film screenings, an open mic and a storytelling workshop. Some of the topics that will be explored include Inuit women in the arts; strategies to create safe learning and healing environments for Indigenous peoples; and Indigenous political and legal issues.
“We’ve had some really amazing events in the past that have been very successful. I want to build on that and continue to grow and expand this work at the university” says Kasperski. “I have panels with Indigenous scholars from different parts of Turtle Island (Canada and the United States). There will be both artistic representation as well as academic because we want to give space to celebrate multiple perspectives of Indigenous success.”
Artistic representation will be in full evidence during the IAW Launch event on Monday, Sept. 17, at the Faculty Club. “A goal of IAW is to make space for Indigenous representation, so I thought what better way to introduce the week than to have a strong symbolic component to the launch event,” says Kasperski. “So, in collaboration with the Faculty Club and the Visual Arts Collection, the aesthetics of Launch will be a must see event. The paintings of the Faculty Club will take a rest for the evening and when you walk in, you will be surrounded by Indigenous artwork created by local Kahnawà:ke artists.”
Kasperski says highlighting local artists during the Launch was a deliberate decision. “The performance part of the evening will feature some traditional singers, also from Kahnawà:ke,” she says. “This is in keeping with the theme of the Launch; Honour Where You Stand. We pay homage to the land we are standing on through our local Indigenous community before opening the week and celebrating the many beautiful things that come from Indigenous communities all across Turtle Island.”
During the Launch, Elder Charlie Patton, will welcome people and open IAW – an important part of the evening.
“The point of having our Elders come and do these openings is to teach us. Which, in turn, means that we have to take on this responsibility ourselves,” says Kasperski. “We need to really listen to what the message behind that opening is. In my culture, we were always taught to not just listen, but pay attention to what was being said. We won’t always have the privilege of the presence of an elder to open events or a day etc., but if we pay attention, we will have the memory of what they taught us, and how to do things in a good way.”
IAW’s Macdonald Campus component will be happening later in the fall around the time that harvest ceremony happens in Haudenosaunee tradition. Participants will take this time to learn about what it means to give thanks as a way of life, not a day in life. Stay tuned for details to come on this event.
It might be hard for people to single out one particular person or event as “must-see,” as the quality is so high and the lineup so diverse. Be it the lecture by lawyer Jodie-Lynn Waddilove; the workshop/concert by bluesman Murray Porter & Elaine Bomberry; or the Commodification of Spiritual Items panel involving members of both the Indigenous and Tibetan communities, the highlights are many. “We’ve spaced it out so that rather than having three of four events in a day, there will only be one or two,” she says. “We did that because the lineup is so strong, I don’t want people to have to choose between events.
And, of course, there will be the First Peoples’ House annual Pow Wow on Sept. 21 – always a highlight in the McGill calendar. “I made sure not to schedule anything else on that day because, well, Pow Wow day is Pow Wow day,” says Kasperski with a smile.
When asked how difficult it is to pull together an event with so many components, Kasperski is quick to hand out some kudos. “I was very lucky to have worked with a work study student this summer, Tomas Jirousek, who has been amazing in helping get all those moving parts to move together,” she says. “I wouldn’t have able to do this without his help.”
Just days away from McGill’s eighth IAW, Kasperski says she hopes the event showcases the diversity, beauty and creativity of Indigenous cultures.
“The goal of IAW is to acknowledge, recognize and celebrate the success of Indigenous folks and to introduce people to the great talent in our communities,” she says. “Often in my job I have to deliver very heavy messages. I teach people and facilitate conversations around the sometimes difficult history of Canada’s relations with Indigenous peoples. It’s very important to remember that history, but it’s just as important to celebrate how much beauty and solidarity there is within our communities. This is our chance to celebrate.”
Please note: The IAW 2018 launch event will be held on Monday, September 17 from 4:00 p.m. – 7:30 p.m. at McGill’s Faculty Club. Enjoy an evening of artwork, networking, honouring and celebrating. There is limited space, so please reserve your free ticket via Eventbrite ASAP.