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Indigenous Culture on Campus: McGill’s First Peoples’ House

We spoke to Marlowe Dubois, the Indigenous Student Advisor for the First Peoples’ House (FPH) to learn more about the FPH’s initiatives on campus.

McGill University, as every student should know, is located on the unceded land of the Kanien’kehà:ka, and Indigenous students from communities all over settler Canada attend classes here. Still, many non-Indigenous students are unaware of the rich Indigenous presence on campus.

This month, the Faculty of Arts spoke to Marlowe Dubois, the Indigenous Student Advisor for the First Peoples’ House (FPH) to learn more about the FPH’s initiatives on campus.

1. Why did you get involved with the First Peoples’ House at McGill?

I am a McGill Alumni and I wanted to give back to the Indigenous community in some way. I saw this position was open and figured it was my best opportunity to do so.

2. What are the responsibilities of the Indigenous Student Advisor?

The responsibilities of the Indigenous Student Advisor are to act as a support and safety net for Indigenous students that feel overwhelmed by the vast organization that is McGill, and to help them find the resources that they need in order to succeed. Ultimately, my job is to be a guide for students that need help in figuring out how McGill operates, and how best to make use of the services available to them at the University

In addition to that, I am also in charge of planning cultural and social events for Indigenous students at McGill.

3. How can Indigenous students on campus maintain connections to their culture whilst on campus?

The best thing that they can do is to reach out to the Montreal Indigenous community, be that at McGill through us at First Peoples’ House, the Indigenous Studies and Community Engagement Initiative (ISCEI), and Indigenous Initiatives, or through the different organizations in Montreal, such as Native Montreal and the Native Friendship Centre.

4. What are some of the most notable or meaningful initiatives you have been involved in during your time at McGill thus far?

Thus far, helping to organize the McGill annual Pow Wow is the thing that has stuck with me the most, and continuing the Elder In Residence program has been rewarding. 

Image by First Peoples House.

5. Are there any upcoming or ongoing events hosted by the First Peoples’ House that students might be interested in attending?

Outside of exam periods, First Peoples’ House hosts a weekly beading workshop with local artists for students to drop in and have a meditative time to sit down and make something and work on their beading skills. We also make sure to host a variety of other events, be they general social events where students can get the chance to network with Indigenous organizations in Montreal, or other cultural events such as drum making. In addition, we work with local elders to organize dates where students can meet with them for spiritual support.

We also have community lunches every Wednesday, open door policy.

6. How can non-Indigenous students attending McGill learn more about Indigenous cultures of the area (I.e., the Haudenosaunee and Anishinaabeg peoples)?

The best way for a non-Indigenous person to learn about local Indigenous cultures is to reach out to any resources that may be around them. Within McGill, there is the First Peoples’ House, where we maintain a network of different cultural contacts to help any students seeking resources to better their understanding. Reach out to McGill’s Indigenous Initiatives Office, who regularly organize events with greater educational scope, like their recent Ajuinnata event series than we do at FPH.

Outside of McGill, the best place to look would be places like Native Montreal and the Native Friendship Centre who, in addition to their community aid work, offer a variety of different cultural and language workshops.

Image by First Peoples House.

7. What are some ways in which McGill could improve its relationship with Indigenous peoples, particularly considering the university’s settler-colonial foundations?

The best thing that the University can do is to provide further support and deference to the Indigenous units at McGill, such as ISCEI and The Office Of Indigenous Initiatives, as well as the different student groups at McGill such as the Indigenous Student Alliance and McGill’s AISES chapter.

8. Are there any resources outside of McGill that students can take advantage of to learn more about Indigenous experiences?

In terms of literature and film, as a Cree First Nation from Saskatchewan, I would recommend the book Clearing the Plains as an exploration of the historical displacement and conditions that has resulted in the current climate for Indigenous Peoples that live in the plains areas. Nîpawistamâsowin: We Will Stand Up is a Canadian Documentary covering the killing of Colten Boushie, and provides a snapshot into the systemic issues affecting Indigenous Peoples in Canada. There is also the historical drama Beans, which covers the Oka Crisis.

If someone wants to learn the more hands-on and local issues affecting Indigenous Peoples in Montreal, I would encourage them to get in contact with places like Native Montreal, Native Friendship Center of Montreal, and the Native Justice Center of Montreal, to learn about the issues afflicting the Montreal Indigenous community and the work being done to confront these issues.

 

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