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2017 Issue 4: How we learn

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Program brings Indigenous students together

Program brings Indigenous students together

[Matariki students at Puketeraki marae.]
Photo courtesy of Sharron Bennett, University of Otago

Matariki students at Puketeraki marae.

For Shyra Barberstock, a master’s student in geography at Queen’s, the Matariki Network Indigenous Student Mobility Program held last summer offered some amazing opportunities. First, it was a chance to travel to New Zealand and learn firsthand about Maori culture. Just as important, however, it was a chance to meet with Indigenous people from around the world and learn about their cultures.

“I love the whole idea of Indigenous people coming together from different countries to share knowledge,” she says. “I thought that was really powerful.” Ms. Barberstock, an Anishinaabe from the Kabaowek First Nation in Quebec who grew up in Ontario, attended the program along with fellow Queen’s graduate students Colin Baillie (Kinesiology) and Natasha Stirrett (Cultural Studies), as well as Kelsey Wrightson, a post-doctoral fellow in Indigenous Studies.

Part of a three-year pilot program, the inaugural two-week event was hosted by the University of Otago in June 2016, bringing together students from four member institutions of the Matariki Network of Universities (MNU) – Queen’s, the University of Western Australia, England’s Durham University, and Dartmouth College in the U.S. – to foster cultural exchanges and the understanding of issues affecting Indigenous communities.

During the two weeks, participants heard from Maori scholars how geography, economics, and politics influenced the social, cultural, and economic development of the Maori. They were also encouraged to think critically about what being Indigenous means, and about how to address issues in their own communities – whether First Nations or Australian Aboriginal. The learning experience also took place outside the classroom and the group visited a pair of maraes, meeting places that are a vital part of Maori life.

“That was really special, getting the teachings from them and learning more about their stories, and what’s important to them,” Ms. Barberstock says. “What I found really interesting is that the Maori people definitely have a very different history than the First Nations here in Canada. But there are synergies in the values of First Nations people and Maori people, that community-mindedness, wanting to do things for the good of the community.”

In her master’s thesis, Ms. Barberstock is exploring if there can be a connection between innovation and reconciliation. Through this she is connecting with Indigenous entrepreneurs, finding out the narrative behind their business and seeing if social innovation can contribute to reconciliation in Canada. An entrepreneur herself, the trip allowed her to gain a deeper understanding of her connections with Maori partners. At the same time she also says that she was impressed by the work being done to preserve the Maori language. At Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Ōtepoti, a Maori immersion elementary school, the Matariki participants were welcomed by a group of schoolchildren who sang in the Maori language and were well-versed in the cultural protocols of their people.

“That was really interesting because it really inspired me and really got me thinking about things that we could do over here because loss of Indigenous languages is a big deal here in Canada,” she says. “A lot of Indigenous languages are going extinct and we really need a revival of Indigenous languages here. I was really inspired by their immersion.”

This year, the Matariki Indigenous Student Mobility Program will be hosted at the University of Western Australia, with Dartmouth College following up in 2018.

Learn more about the Matariki Network of Universities.

[cover of Queen's Alumni Review, issue 1, 2017]