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Students explore global Indigenous histories and resilience

Fourth annual Matariki Indigenous Student Mobility Program brings international group to Queen's for discussions on issues facing Indigenous land, language, and learning.

2019 Matariki Indigenous Student Mobility Program participants.
This year's Matariki Indigenous Student Mobility Program participants at Queen's University.

Students from around the world gathered at Queen’s University recently for an immersive, two-week exploration of Indigenous histories and resilience in the face of centuries of colonial oppression. The fourth annual Matariki Indigenous Student Mobility Program (MISMP) brought together 21 participants from universities in the U.S., New Zealand, Australia, Sweden, and Canada, to discuss issues facing Indigenous land, language, and learning.

“We covered a lot of ground, both figuratively and literally, over the course of this year’s program,” says Lindsay Morcom, Assistant Professor of Aboriginal Education and MISMP faculty lead at Queen’s. “I’m very proud of how this wonderful and diverse group of students continually sought the deep, meaningful discussions required when learning about the breadth of issues facing Indigenous communities worldwide.”

The program opened with a welcoming ceremony inside a traditional longhouse on Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory – an area not far from Kingston. The gathering provided students and community attendees with an opportunity to share knowledge, song, and language, as well as explore how Indigenous experiences in Canada connect with Indigenous experiences globally.

“Languages hold so many unique ways of understanding and expressing ideas, so it was inspiring to see students, elders, and community members speaking and sharing insights in their heritage languages,” says Dr. Morcom, who was recently named the Canada Research Chair in Language Revitalization and Decolonizing Education. “Educating in culturally relevant ways not only helps boost self-esteem in students, it also contributes to building their capacity as the next generation of scholars.”

Over the following two weeks, students visited Indigenous educational centres in the region, including the Quinte Mohawk School and the First Nations Technical Institute, and spent time at Elbow Lake Environmental Education Centre engaging in discussions with experts and researchers on issues ranging from Indigenous land relations, treaties, feminism, and food sovereignty.

Students also learned about Canada’s assimilative policies and the social impacts of its past residential school program. They visited Kingston Penitentiary as well, learning about and discussing the effects of the penal system on Indigenous communities, and participated in a walking tour of the Queen’s campus that highlighted areas of significance to the university’s own Truth and Reconciliation efforts.

“I felt seen and I felt loved,” says Queen’s student participant Caleigh Matheson about her MISMP experience. “I didn’t feel the need to make myself and my opinions smaller, but instead felt reinvigorated. It gave me a bit more faith in academia.”

Many participants expressed feelings of acceptance, enlightenment, and inspiration during the program.

“Just being able to know that we are not alone was powerful,” added Queen’s student Brittany McBeath. Matheson and McBeath took part in the MISMP alongside four fellow Queen’s students.

The program culminated in a trip to Ottawa – during which MISMP students visited the First Nations exhibits at the Canadian Museum of History – and field outings to Petroglyphs Provincial Park and Curve Lake Whetung Art Centre.

“It was a great pleasure to host the MISMP group this year, as it provided an opportunity for our experts to share much of the great Indigenous research being done here at Queen’s,” says Kanonhsyonne (Janice Hill), Queen’s Associate Vice-Principal (Indigenous Initiatives and Reconciliation). “It also gave students a hands-on experience through which to develop their understanding of our local Haudenosaunee and Anishinaabe perspectives, and time to nurture important global relationships and partnerships through this learning.”

The Matariki Network of Universities (MNU) facilitates the MISMP, and hosting rotates through member institutions year by year. The program, held June 23 to July 6, was the first hosted at Queen’s University.