Building Indigenous spaces provides essential educational pathways toward reconciliation
This past weekend, Mount Allison students and local elders built an Indigenous longhouse in the academic quad to visually represent reconciliation. Part of Decolonizing Methodologies, a third-year sociology course taught by Prof. Chris George, this event provided an opportunity for the students to learn Indigenous teachings from local elders.
The building process began on Friday, Oct. 13, when elders Gkisedtanamoogk and Miigam’agan came to campus to speak with students about longhouses and their cultural significance. A longhouse is a narrow building created by tying saplings together. The elders explained that longhouses serve many roles in Indigenous communities, and are often used for community and family gatherings.
That evening, the class joined the elders to search the surrounding forests for birch saplings with which to construct the longhouse. However, because there were more alder saplings available to be harvested, the elders decided to use them instead of birch.
Early the next morning, the students and elders went to the harvesting site, where a ceremony was conducted to honour the saplings before they were harvested and transported back to the academic quad. There, joined by elder Ron Tremblay, the participants began building the longhouse.
The building process involved cleaning the saplings, tearing coloured fabric, preparing twine and digging holes in the ground. While the longhouse was built, the elders shared the teachings of the longhouse, explaining that every aspect of the longhouse – from the colour of the ties to the order of their placement – carried a different teaching.
For the students, building the longhouse provided a valuable learning experience about land-based practices in Indigenous cultures. “[One aspect of the class] was getting out on the land and connecting with Indigenous processes and Indigenous knowledge, Indigenous ways of learning and passing on knowledge, and trying to introduce our class (which is predominantly non-Indigenous) to Indigenous ways of learning and knowing,” said George. “[These] ancestral ways that have been around for so many generations are marginalized and not fully practiced; [learning about them] is the point of reconciliation.”
After completing the longhouse, the class and the elders shared conversation and a meal in the Mawita’mkw, an Indigenous gathering space in the student centre.
Following the meal, the group went back to the building site and entered the longhouse, where there was a smudging ceremony. Before leaving, everybody exchanged hugs and thanked each other for their contributions to the weekend.
Laylia Bennett, a student in the class said, “I have so much love and respect in my heart for everybody who participated in this longhouse building experience – it’s been a really special few days and it’s been a really valuable learning experience and I am really thankful to have had this opportunity.”
Originally, the idea was to construct the longhouse and tear it down at the end of the day. During the building process the students realized that they wanted to have a representation of their experience seen by the community. They decided that the longhouse should be left up for the entire coming week.
While students are welcomed and encouraged to spend time in the longhouse, the class requested that students not bring alcohol or drugs near the structure and that community members enter through the east entrance nearest the library. Treating the longhouse respectfully is an act of reconciliation that all members of the Mt. A community and beyond are responsible for participating in. Hailie Tattrie, a student taking the course, said, “I hope this is going to be a source of education for a lot of students and that everyone recognizes the importance of it.”