News  McGill kicks off 2nd annual Aboriginal Awareness Week

Organizers express need for awareness of Aboriginal issues in Montreal

McGill’s second annual Aboriginal Awareness Week, dedicated to increasing awareness at McGill about Aboriginal peoples in Canada and Montreal and organized by the Aboriginal Sustainability Project (ASP), kicked off last Friday and will continue through the week.

The ASP is expanding programming this year by partnering with external organizations the Native Friendship Centre of Montreal (NFCM), the Kahnawake Cultural Centre, and McGill’s First Peoples’ House.

According to Allan Vicaire, coordinator of the ASP, “The [week] provides an opportunity for the community to understand who First Nations people are, in terms of their history, their culture, and their past and current issues.”

He told The Daily that the event was well-received last year, generating participation from faculty and staff both within and outside the Aboriginal community.

Along with the ASP, these community partners will be providing more interactive evens than last year, including a feast hosted at the NFCM, a dreamcatcher-making workshop in the Arts building, and a “Living Library Tour” at McGill’s Redpath Museum, where Aboriginal participants will have a chance to share their personal histories.

Paige Isaac, coordinator of the First Peoples’ House, said she feels that collaboration with outside organizations will create a more dynamic week and increase community interest.

“I think this year [the week will be] bigger and better,” she told The Daily. “It’s just a cool way to break down some barriers and stereotypes and have a safe space to learn.”

Vicaire and Isaac both attributed the success and growth of Aboriginal Awareness Week to funds provided by the ASP.

“There was always a need for this on campus,” explained Vicaire. “[The Aboriginal Awareness Project] and our partners helped to institutionalize it.”

NFCM Outreach and Cultural Coordinator Alan Harrington said he hopes that partnering with the McGill community will increase interaction between Aboriginal people and the greater Montreal community.

Harrington also hopes the Centre’s presence on campus will help McGill students understand the struggles the Aboriginal community faces in Montreal, especially in light of recent funding cuts initiated by the province of Quebec.

The NFCM has itself suffered important cuts, and faced the possibility of closure last spring.

“Since I started at the Centre, I’ve seen awareness growing rapidly,” Harrington told The Daily.

He added that he hopes the event will reflect the ongoing presence of the Aboriginal community.

“We’re still here,” he said. “We’re not going anywhere anytime soon.”

Vicaire also urged the McGill community to become more aware of Montreal’s Aboriginal population.

In addition to Aboriginal Awareness Week, he is working to initiate new programs throughout the semester, including a tutoring program that sends McGill students to a school in Kahnawake to help students with homework.

“The programs continue to expand and provide more opportunities for shared experiences between McGill students and Aboriginal communities,” Vicaire said, adding that this year’s Aboriginal Awareness Week will be the first step in this interconnection.

“McGill has set the bar for Aboriginal community awareness in Montreal.”