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March 29, 2018 11:24 AM

Student voices highlighted at Truth and Reconciliation event

On March 23, Conestoga’s Aboriginal Services and Student Engagement teams hosted the college’s second annual Truth and Reconciliation event. Held at the Doon campus, the session welcomed students and employees for a full-day of presentations from a cross-section of Indigenous voices including Chiefs and academics.

During the afternoon, Conestoga students also shared their own experiences as part of a panel discussion where they spoke openly about their journey and the struggle they have each faced to survive and feel welcome in a community.

“Thank you for hearing my story and the stories of my peers,” said Journalism student Raven Morand. Morand shared details about her childhood in Thunder Bay and the effects residential schools have had on her family over the last three generations. Morand thanked Conestoga's Aboriginal Services manager Christina Restoule for helping her see beyond her circumstances and said she was determined to find success at the post-secondary level to avoid becoming another statistic.

Like Morand, Business student Clinton Jameson and Architecture - Construction Engineering Technology student Shauna Gingras also grew up in communities that were stuck in cycles of substance abuse and struggled to break out of them. Gingras is the first in her family to attend a post-secondary institution.

Amanda Trites, a student in the Bachelor of Community and Criminal Justice program, experienced racism during an out-of-province emergency hospital visit nearly two years ago where she was left without care. She said it lit a flame in her to fight for reconciliation. Trites was recently interviewed by the CBC about her involvement in Ganawenden - a new organization she co-founded that offers talks on the Indigenous culture to take away misconceptions about Indigenous people in the community.

Following the panel discussion, another student presenter, Kristina Denny, a Conestoga Bachelor of Nursing student, discussed her 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.

“We made it here,” said Morand when asked what the college community could do to help. “But recognize that Indigenous students are still struggling.”

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 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, un-traditional counselling services, Elders-in-Residence programs and the Aboriginal Student Association.

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