In our last blog post for 2017, we hear from Kanonhsyonne (Janice Hill), Director of Indigenous Initiatives at Queen’s University. In this piece, the themes of connection, community and welcome are explored.
In celebration of the 20th Anniversary of the Equity Office, and in recognition of the need for all members of the Queen’s community to engage in the work of building a more inclusive campus environment, I have chosen to explore the idea of welcoming and inclusion from an Indigenous perspective.
In my work, everything I do is informed by my culture. It is an essential part of me, my life, and the way I see and live in the world. In Kanien’kehá:ka teachings around the Great Law of Peace, we are told that at the beginning of the formation of the Haudenosaunee (Six Nations/Iroquois Confederacy), the Peacemaker took as a symbol the great white pine that has four white roots extending to the four cardinal directions, which we refer to as the Tree of Peace. He articulated two important concepts with the planting of the Tree of Peace. First, that all weapons of war would be buried beneath the tree so that no one in the Iroquois Confederacy would war against each other again. With the formation of the Law and the establishment of our clan system, we all became family. Secondly, he indicated that anyone who chose to follow the roots to the source of the tree could find shelter there. In our understanding, this means anyone could find welcome, safety, and belonging. This is our model of inclusion.
A further model of inclusion from my culture is the practice of extending the rafters. Traditional Haudenosaunee communities lived in longhouses, which were large communal dwellings that housed a number of families under one roof. As our families grew, and newcomers joined our communities, we simply extended the rafters of the longhouse to make room. This practice is about building new relationships and fostering a spirit of welcome within our communities. Just like the teachings of the Peacemaker, we believe that all people have a place of belonging.
Haudenosaunee people are collectivists, meaning we make decisions based on the good of the community as opposed to the individual. In our societies, decision-making is about considering the impact seven generations into the future and acknowledging seven generations into the past. This practice inherently makes room for different perspectives, reinforces a sense of responsibility to your community, and enhances your awareness of your connection to those around you.
Building new relationships, enhancing connections to community, and helping to foster a welcoming environment where Indigenous students, faculty, and staff can feel a sense of belonging are important priorities for the newly established Office of Indigenous Initiatives, but it is work that requires engagement from all of us—to learn, to empathize, and to understand. Working in collaboration with every facet of the university community, we will strive for good and right relationships, not only with the Indigenous community but with all people who find their way here.