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June 23, 2017 9:12 AM

Conestoga celebrates National Aboriginal Day

On June 21, Conestoga’s Aboriginal Services team hosted a celebration at the Doon campus in recognition of National Aboriginal Day. Activities included a smudging ceremony, tipi raising and an afternoon workshop on Truth and Reconciliation that featured a panel of guest speakers.

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Conestoga's Aboriginal Services team hosted a full day of events to celebrate National Aboriginal Day on June 21. An afternoon workshop included a discussion on Truth and Reconciliation. L-R Aboriginal Services manager Myeengun Henry, and guest speakers George Kennedy and Lyla Bruyere

“With you spending this day together with us we can go forward with peace, love and friendship,” said Aboriginal Services manager Myeengun Henry to guests and members of the Conestoga community who attended the workshop. “We hope today can mark a new direction in the understanding of our history so that you can see it through a new lens.”

National Aboriginal Day recognizes and celebrates the unique heritage and diverse cultures of First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples. Celebrations fall on June 21, the summer solstice, as Indigenous Peoples have celebrated their culture on or near the solstice for generations. National Aboriginal Day is also the first of three Celebrate Canada Days that lead up to Canada Day celebrations on July 1. Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day falls on June 24 and Canadian Multiculturalism Day is celebrated June 27.

During the afternoon workshop, Henry shared the significance of wampum belts - belts beaded with shells to narrate traditions and laws. The two-row wampum belt represents a treaty from the early 1600s that outlined the relationship that would exist between Indigenouse peoples and European settlers. The belt depicts two purple rows set parallel against a white background; the dark rows signify a canoe and a European ship travelling down the river of life in harmony, neither interfering in the other’s journey. The white background represents friendship and peace.

“This belt is something every person in Canada should know about,” said Henry. “It signifies what still has to happen today.”

Guest speakers included elders Lyla Bruyere and Arnold Albert, and George Kennedy, a PhD Candidate in History at the University of Western Ontario.

Bruyere, now 60, shared her experiences as a residential school survivor. “There are so many things I’ve been through, but I’m here today to share just a tidbit of my experience and what it was like being in a residential school,” said Bruyere. She summed up the experience as one of abandonment and spoke about the details of her healing journey. Today she delivers keynote speeches and works with survivors of residential schools. She completed her Master of Social Work at Laurier in 2014 after enrolling in the program with her son.

“We have to understand and start growing together as a nation,” said Henry when he thanked attendees for participating in the celebration. “You giving up your day to share this experience with us says a lot. We’ll grow together.”

The college’s Be-Dah-Bin Gamik, a Place of New Beginnings, provides services for Conestoga’s 500 Aboriginal students, including those who are First Nations (status and non-status), Métis and Inuit. It is a welcoming environment that assists students with a smooth transition to college life by providing ongoing support. Services include social and cultural events and activities, counselling services, Elders-in-Residence programs and the Aboriginal Student Association. For more information, visit Aboriginal Services

Myeengun Henry also hosts Nish-Vibes on Conestoga’s CJIQ 88.3 Saturday mornings from 7:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. Content includes traditional and contemporary Aboriginal music, teachings, history and interviews.

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