Four Directions Aboriginal Centre welcomes new Cultural Counsellor

Vernon Altiman (Mishiikenh) to serve as advisor for Indigenous youth on campus

Students and staff in front of 144 and 146 Barrie Street.
Supplied by Vanessa McCourt

On Nov. 13, Vernon Altiman (Mishiikenh) started his first day as Four Directions Aboriginal Centre’s new Cultural Counsellor. Altiman’s appointment fulfills a four-month vacancy for the position, previously called Elder in Residence.

The Cultural Counsellor operates as an advisor for Indigenous youth at the University with extensive land-based knowledge to further Indigenous Initiatives within the Four Directions Aboriginal Centre. 

“Elders play a vital role in educating the campus and creating a safe and welcoming space in addition to providing wise counsel, and ceremonies,” Queen’s Director of Indigenous Initiatives Janice Hill (Kanonhsyonne) wrote in an email to The Journal.

Altiman – who also works as a lecturer of Anishinaabemowin in the Department of Languages at the University – told The Journal he was encouraged to apply for the position by a colleague. 

“I teach Ojibwe language and one of my colleagues who works in the Faculty of Education advised me that there was going to be an opening, or they were looking for staff with the capacity I’ve had for a long time now,” he said. “I just went through with the application after it was posted.”

As outlined in an email to The Journal, Assistant Dean (Student Life and Learning) Corinna Fitzgerald said criteria for the position included “recognition by an Aboriginal community as having knowledge and understanding of the traditional culture and experience working with Indigenous youth providing Elder, or similar services.” 

Altiman has experience as both a teacher and learner of Indigenous culture.

“In the Indigenous realm of things I’ve only been a teacher for the last 15 or 20 years I suppose, teaching cultural knowledge to our Indigenous peoples,” Altiman said. “I’ve been through formal education myself and it was pretty limited in terms of land-based knowledge until I attended the Seven Generations Education Institute in Fort Frances Ontario.”

Altiman added his knowledge is a result of a significant amount of experience with sweat lodges, teaching lodges and formal ceremonies in places like Round Lake, Ontario. He’s also a sun dancer and has taught the Annishinnabe program at Georgian College and Lakehead’s Orillia campus.

When asked what he hopes to achieve as a Cultural Counsellor for Indigenous students, Altiman said he wants to debunk “some of the colonialist thinking and practices” at Queen’s and to try and “take down some of the boundaries that incapacitate our people’s ability to think outside of the box.” 

Not only does Altiman hope to encourage students to delve deeper into their culture, but he also wants them to retain their languages.

“It doesn’t matter how much education we cram into our brains, we are Indigenous people first and foremost. The spirit is acknowledged in our stories, legends and ceremonies and is paramount in our existence,” he said. “The inextricable link we have to the spirit is something students need to understand and start utilizing for their mental capacity.”

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