Women & knowledge focus of conference

Aboriginal Student Centre hosts seventh forum on Native Studies

Drummers performed at an aboriginal symposium on Sunday.
Drummers performed at an aboriginal symposium on Sunday.

The talking stick, decorated with feathers and beading, determined the exchange of words this past weekend at the seventh annual Symposium on Native Studies, hosted by Four Directions Aboriginal Student Centre.

The theme of this year’s symposium was women and knowledge and presentations took the form of a traditional aboriginal circle setting, in which the stick is used to determine the speaker.

The person holding the talking stick gains exclusive speaking rights, and passes it to the next speaker once he or she is finished.

Julie Peters, ArtSci ’06, spoke about her research about the disappearance and murder of numerous aboriginal women in Canada. She told the symposium her undergraduate thesis focuses on challenging the silence surrounding the disappearances and murders through grassroots activism.

“Violence against aboriginal women … is such a huge problem, and it’s going unnoticed in society,” Peters said.

Peters said she’s glad she had the opportunity to speak at the symposium and get others’ opinions on her research.

“I was kind of nervous about it at first, but it was a great opportunity to be able to present on my topic and get such great feedback,” Peters said.

Heather Green, a speaker at the symposium and the executive secretary for Four Directions, said roughly 190 students attended the three-day event.

“Participation and response was wonderful, in my mind,” she said.

While most sessions of the opening night were well-attended, fewer students came to the session by the Akwesasne drummers and dancers. Husband and wife Wennisenio and Karoniahroris danced and sang with their four children, Teharonwarronheke, Tewatsiwari, Teiahnakete and Dakota Green. Interspersed with Wennisenio’s teaching of the cycle of life and the healing process, the family invited members of the audience to participate in song and dance.

This year’s keynote speaker, Dr. Lori Alvord, is a practicing surgeon and assistant professor of psychiatry and the associate dean of student and multicultural affairs at Dartmouth Medical School. Alvord, a member of the Navajo nation, spoke about her experiences incorporating holistic healing in her medical practice and teaching.

Adrienne Best and Peggy DeJong, both third-year medical students, shared their knowledge of how aboriginal traditions are incorporated into medical practices in northern Ontario communities where they’ve worked.

The opening night of the symposium ended with a reading of Daniel Moses’ play “The Witch of Niagara,” by students from the drama department. Moses, a Queen’s drama professor and an accomplished poet and playwright, was on hand for a book signing that followed the reading.

Peters said that Four Directions hosts a themed symposium every year, emphasizing shared experiences and community ties. Past themes have included issues surrounding aboriginal governance, the corrections system, education and healing in communities. Organizers choose a keynote speaker who’s an expert in their field and then invite scholars from different universities to share their research in the area of interest.

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