A week of events, acts of allyship, and calls to action for the Mt. A community
September 30 marked the second year of the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation in Canada. The day honours the children impacted by the residential school system, the historical impact of colonization on Indigenous communities, and the work being undertaken towards reconciliation.
Patty Musgrave, Mt. A’s Indigenous Affairs Coordinator from Unama’ki (Cape Breton Island), has been a longstanding advocate for Indigenous rights and has designed countless projects working towards Indigenous support, celebration, and education on campus.
Musgrave explained how the day should be used for learning and celebrating acts of allyship, alongside recognizing the long-term impacts of colonialism on Indigenous communities.
The week of events planned by Musgrave, campus elders and other University leadership, and the instatement of the day of mourning, hopes to inspire “those small number of voices […] to carry the message far and wide that the collateral damage that happened through residential schools, from the survivors to those who didn’t make it home, and their families and their descendants.”
Musgrave described how meaningful acts of allyship and leadership are also essential aspects of reconciliation. For example, Sophie Austin and Hailey Frampton, two women’s soccer team players, showed their efforts to promote education and solidarity with Indigenous communities on Saturday by wearing orange uniforms and providing a pre-game educational presentation hosted by Musgrave.
Musgrave expressed how the women’s soccer team “turned this entire week around with their allyship” after the limited participation in the other events on campus last week.
“Sometimes I feel as though the same people show up all the time to support us,” Musgrave expressed of the university leadership’s participation. “The curator of the Owens, Emily. The President, Dr. Jean-Paul Boudreau. The VP International and Student Affairs, Anne Comfort. I feel like they’re always the ones showing up, and it would be nice if the rest of the leadership showed up.”
Musgrave urged faculty, deans, and administration to also involve themselves in acts of reconciliation, like Indigenous events hosted by the campus Elders and other community members, rather than requesting Indigenous resources without reciprocating the same support to Indigenous communities. “Things have to happen from the top down,” she insisted.
“There’s more leadership at this University than just the President and Anne Comfort,” Musgrave stated. “If our leadership, aside from the President and Anne Comfort, are not going to take part and be present and lead faculty and staff through [reconciliation], nothing’s gonna happen. It’s just tokenism.” There are many educational resources to educate yourself about Indigenous culture and how colonization has impacted Indigenous communities. Musgrave recommends Indian School Road by Chris Benjamin, a book she “buys for everyone” that highlights timelines, histories, and personal accounts of the Shubenacadie Residential School in Nova Scotia.
The Mt. A website also features learning modules titled “Mi’kmaw Women — Strength of a Nation” that provides self-directed education on the history of Indigenous communities in Atlantic Canada, with a focus on the role of women, and the modern impacts of colonization like environmental racism and Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.
Musgrave also emphasized educating oneself and questioning how even local landmarks are long-standing reminders of colonization. “What about Amherst?” She noted that the origin of the town’s name is from Lord Jeffrey Amherst, an active leader in historical genocide towards Indigenous communities.
Lord Jeffrey Amherst’s historical letters cite numerous accounts and aspirations of violence towards Indigenous communities in the 1700s. He is one of many historical figures honoured despite their horrific acts towards Indigenous communities across Canada.
“This stuff is happening [even now] in Atlantic Canada. We had a residential school in Atlantic Canada. We have missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in Atlantic Canada. We have a student who has been missing for ten years in November and everybody has to remember Christopher Metallic.”
Some of the initiatives started by Musgrave and her team provide many resources to Indigenous and non-Indigenous students. She explained how “the Peace and Friendship Treaty is still going on here today at Mount Allison, and it’s in the Indigenous Centre in McCain.”
Mawita’mkw (“a place we can gather”) is an Indigenous gathering space in room 130 of the Student Centre that hosts a series of supports, including the campus food bank (open to all students), a drink- and drug-free social space in the evenings, a recently gifted sewing machine, and other educational resources.
Mt. A also houses the University Sweat Lodge and tipi, where ceremonies are hosted throughout the year for the community. Last week, however, the tipi poles were found vandalized and broken.
Musgrave described how “there were a lot of tears” after finding the destruction of the sacred space. She hopes that the outrage that it caused the community and the support received by the Indigenous community after the vandalism, ensures that “our students are going to watch out for that space. Because they are welcome to it.”
After the destruction of the tipi, the President immediately took on the role of creating solutions to protect the area from future vandalism, such as a sign and a fence sectioning the area off from non-sacred space.
In collaboration with the campus Elders, important goals have been outlined for furthering the support of the Indigenous community on campus.
“In a perfect world […] we would have our own building,” Musgrave explained with excitement. She noted how this ideal building would have many purposes, including as an Indigenous student residence, a place in close proximity to the Sweat Lodge and tipi, and a space for visiting Elders and other guests, cooking community meals, and displaying artwork that donors are currently apprehensive about donating. The building would create a welcoming home away from home for everyone, including non-Indigenous students.
“I would also like a longhouse near the firepit and the garden where classes can come sit inside and learn with a fire, with our Elders in a traditional longhouse,” Musgrave further listed in her suggestions. “Let’s find ways that we can incorporate Mi’kmaq teachings into everything we do. Let’s really push our faculty and staff to take part in things that matter.”