Powwow points to problems

Participants at the fifth-annual Educational Powwow on Saturday at the Agnes Benidickson field celebrated diversity amongst Aboriginal communities.
Participants at the fifth-annual Educational Powwow on Saturday at the Agnes Benidickson field celebrated diversity amongst Aboriginal communities.

The fifth-annual educational powwow was celebrated on Saturday, focusing on promoting diversity amongst Aboriginal communities, although the theme isn’t one always seen at Queen’s, said Four Directions Aboriginal Student Centre Director Janice Hill.

“You would never know, by walking through the Queen’s campus that there are Aboriginal students here,” she said.

Hill said just over 100 students at Queen’s have self-identified as Aboriginal.

“We can find the status students through the Registrar’s office,” she said. “That’s only because they may be receiving some sort of funding.”

It’s much harder to find numbers on Aboriginal students who don’t identify as such, Hill said.

“A lot of people feel that there’s a stigma attached,” she said. “It becomes a judgmental thing for students … There’s a lot of subtle racism at Queen’s.”

Hill said there’s a stereotype that all Aboriginal students receive a free postsecondary education.

“They think if you’re Aboriginal, your education is paid for automatically, and that’s not true,” she said.

Queen’s administration has developed a number of initiatives to try and increase enrolment of Aboriginal students at Queen’s, including the Aboriginal Council and the Aboriginal Access to Engineering Program — which is still in development.

Hill said current initatives aren’t enough.

“[Aboriginal students] don’t see it as a welcoming environment,” she said. “I can count the Aboriginal faculty on one hand and still have fingers left over.”

Hill said it’s the University’s responsibility to turn out educated leaders.

“People who graduate from Queen’s go on to become leaders of this country. It will be good for the leaders of this country to understand Aboriginal people and their issues,” she said.

The powwow saw performers, many of whom traveled across Ontario to gather at 6 a.m. for the Sunrise Ceremony.

“We wanted to take the opportunity to educate people,” Hill said.

Spectators, mainly local community members, are often unfamiliar with the many Aboriginal communities’ traditions showcased at the powwow, she said.

“I’d like people to know that Aboriginal people in this culture have a lot to share,” Hill said. “This acts as a doorway for people to come and ask us about our ways and our indigenous knowledge.”

Typically, the event draws more than 100 performers and 1,000 spectators, but this year numbers fell by half.

Hill said this was largely because of Saturday’s inclement weather and the fact that other powwows were occurring in Ontario that weekend.

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