Last Thursday marked the official opening of the Mawiti’mkw (a space where we can gather) on the Mount Allison campus, which resides on unceded Mi’kmaq territory. The opening was preceded by the raising of the Mi’kmaq flag and was followed by a dedication and community feast.
Located in room 130 of the Wallace McCain Student Centre, the space features artwork, a painting of a medicine wheel and other comforts for students.
Spencer Isaac, a Canadian studies and anthropology student from the Listuguj Mi’gmaq First Nation, has great hope for the Mawiti’mkw.
“We’re trying to see this place as a resource for First Nations students or allies looking to get in touch with cultures in the area and learn more about the Indigenous perspective in Canada,” he said. Isaac also said the space would be used for ceremonial purposes, talking circles and meetings of the Indigenous Support Group.
The Indigenous Support Group was integral to the creation of the Mawiti’mkw, according to Isaac. The support group was founded in 2012 in response to the disappearance of Chris Metallic, Isaac’s brother. The group has since advocated for a number of short- and long- term goals, including the hiring of Indigenous Affairs Coordinator Doreen Richard.
“We needed some kind of Indigenous representation in the university besides a couple of pages in a textbook or a week in class talking about indigeneity,” Isaac said. “We figured that having someone who was consistently there would show Mt. A a whole new perspective.”
Second-year biology student Rebecca Dunnett, from the Metepenagiag Mi’kmaq First Nation, echoed Isaac’s sentiments.
“When I came to Mount Allison, I was so lost. I was used to a community-based system, so when I came to Mt. A it was a huge culture shock and there was nowhere to go. I feel [the Mawiti’mkw] is a refuge,” she said. “I finally have a safe place that I can feel comfortable in. Before it felt unwelcoming everywhere I went. It was almost like my culture didn’t exist.”
Emma Hassencahl, a Maliseet fine arts student from the Tobique First Nation, hopes the space will foster a sense of community for Indigenous students.
“We didn’t want other people to come here and feel what we felt, which was out of place,” she said.
The opening of the Mawiti’mkw also coincides with Mt. A’s Year of Indigenous Knowing. All interviewees stressed the importance of not relegating indigeneity to a single year, but continuing the conversation.
“The university is an institution that has existed for thousands of years. It’s a system that can’t be broken down, but you can indigenize the cracks in the system,” Hassencahl said. “There’s no point where we can say, ‘we’ve indigenized and we’re done.’ It’s an ongoing process.”
“I hope it’s not just this year. I hope it continues for years after. There is still so much we have to learn. In having a space like this other students will realize they can be involved in our culture. It’s open,” Dunnett said.
Though Mt. A is putting forth efforts to “indigenize” the university, these are largely due to the work of Indigenous students and faculty.
“I think [Mt. A] is getting better, but there’s always room for improvement. Mt. A typically wasn’t a school that First Nations students would go to,” Isaac said. “I think we’re headed down the right path. There are going to be more bumps in the road, but we’ll smooth them out as we go.”