First Voices Week Comes to Concordia

Events Showcase the University’s Indigenous Communities

  • First Voices runs from Jan 30 to Feb 3. Photo courtesy of Indigenous Concordia.

Want to learn more about Indigenous culture from local Indigenous voices? Come check out First Voices, an awareness week designed for open engagement and the celebration of diverse and unique Indigenous culture, from Jan. 30 to Feb. 3.

Wahéhshon Shiann Whitebean, the head organizer of the week-long event couldn’t hide her excitement for what’s to come.

“First Voices week is about saying, ‘We’re here! We’re still here,’” Whitebean said in a phone interview. “It’s about self-representation. It’s an Indigenous-led movement.”

Events throughout the week are curated and organized by Indigenous Concordia staff, students and community members, and showcase Indigenous voices. Non-Indigenous community members are welcomed to participate and engage.

“This is a great opportunity for students to come and ask questions,” Whitebean said. “People can come to become more aware, involved and engaged. We’re open for interaction, exchange and dialogue.”

Many of the events planned create an interactive framework for people to ask questions, learn about different aspects of different Indigenous cultures and listen to important voices of the community to speak about traditional knowledge and diverse experience.

“Participating in the events is a great opportunity to add another layer to your educational experience, and to see other ways of doing and seeing things,” Whitebean said.

First Voices will commence with a traditional opening ceremony at 10:00 a.m. in the Hall building on the Sir George Williams Campus on Monday morning. Community Kanien’kehá:ka—the Mohawk word for Mohawk—elder Charlie Patton will lead the ceremony, an honour for the Concordia community.

The ceremony will be followed by an important teaching and information session about land defence mobilization in Standing Rock, North Dakota. First Voices organizers have brought in a Seneca grandmother, Stacy Huff, who recently returned from Standing Rock reservation to speak about her experiences.

For all of the film-lovers, First Voices has collaborated with Cinéma Politica for a full Monday night of Indigenous cinema. The films will be followed by a Q&A with Indigenous director Roxann Whitebean, hosted by a well-known Indigenous activist and educator Nakuset Sohkiwiwin.

First Voices have also organized various Living Library sessions throughout the week, where community members will speak about issues like cultural-based healing, language revitalization efforts and food security.

When asked about what event she was looking forward to, Whitebean spoke of the upcoming talk with Ellen Katsitsakwas Gabriel. The talk is an opportunity for CBC Montreal journalist and news anchor Nancy Wood to interview Gabriel, followed by a Q&A.

Gabriel is a well-known Mohawk activist and educator from Kahnawake Mohawk nation, whose voice profoundly rings in the living memory of the 1990 Oka Crisis.

During the Oka Crisis, a tense prolonged stand-off between the Mohawk people and the Canadian government, Gabriel represented a female voice of reason and resilience. She has continued to speak on behalf of Indigenous peoples’ rights throughout the country ever since.

Mark your calendar as well for an anti-racism and appropriation of Indigenous cultures workshop on Wednesday, Feb. 1. The space will be an opportunity for local Indigenous educators to examine the impacts of colonialism and institutional racism. It is also a call for a heightened awareness for the potential that everyone has to perpetuate harm on Indigenous peoples.

More events include a dream-catcher workshop, keynote speakers, panel discussions and a much anticipated closing ceremony and First Voices social, held at the Hive Café on the Loyola campus on Feb. 3.

“The best event I’ve ever been to was the First Voices social, organized by the Aboriginal Student Centre in 2015,” Whitebean said. “We bring in contemporary singers, dancers and vendors.”
The social will be catered by the People’s Potato and provide an opportunity for participants to network, interact and simply let loose.

“We hope this will be an annual event,” Whitebean said, and judging by her determination and focus, it seems like the necessary steps have been taken to ensure First Voices’ success.

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