Conestoga College: Youth & Elders Gathering connects Aboriginal youth to culture
Conestoga’s Aboriginal Student Services team hosted the fourth annual Youth and Elders Gathering on November 25 at the Doon campus. The full-day event offered eight workshops to students and members of the Conestoga community that focused on the theme of staying connected to culture in a modern society.
“This was the first time we had a theme for the gathering and it was one that addressed feedback we’ve been receiving from students all year,” explained Christina Restoule, manager of Aboriginal Services. “Whether they have lived on reserve or in an urban environment, students always want to know where to find resources about their culture, how to connect to their culture and how to stay connected.”
Restoule added that staying connected to cultural traditions in a modern world can be difficult, which is why so much effort went in to finding the right facilitators to deliver the workshops.
Among the presenters was Mawla Shawana, from Wikwemikong Unceded Indian Reservation, who teaches Ojibwe language at Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation and McMaster University. According to Restoule, the region is home to a high population of Ojibwe people, but finding language instruction due to the limited number of speakers is becoming increasingly difficult.
Restoule also said the gathering marked the first time youth were involved as presenters, which helped diversify the perspectives shared. Del Riley, former national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, provided the opening remarks for the day and was joined by his son Del Riley Jr.
Another youth presenter, Kristina Denny, is a Conestoga Bachelor of Nursing student who facilitated a workshop on the Mi’kmaq of Newfoundland. Denny discussed her own journey to achieve Mi’kmaq Indian status and the difficulty she has faced since losing it. The criteria for status was renegotiated which resulted in Denny’s status being revoked; she is still fighting to have her identity recognized.
Also among the presenters was Tauni Sheldon and her son Albie. Sheldon is the first Inuit elder-in-residence at Conestoga and provides guidance and mentorship to students in her role.
“I think elders are better described as our knowledge carriers,” said Restoule. “Not all students are raised with the culture so our knowledge carriers help to connect them to tradition – it’s a time of discovery for most. Even those who were raised with the culture still want to maintain a connection to the community.”
The college’s Elders-in-Residence program runs on Fridays at the Doon campus.
Conestoga’s Be-Dah-Bin Gamik, a Place of New Beginnings, provides services for Aboriginal students at Conestoga, including those who are First Nations (status and non-status), Metis and Inuit. It provides a welcoming environment that assists students with a smooth transition to college life by providing ongoing support. In addition to the Elders-in-Residence program, services include social and cultural events and activities.
For more information, visit Aboriginal Services.