Indigenizing the world around us
How MRU is unrolling its Indigenous Strategic Plan
By Tawnya Plain Eagle, Contributor
Staff and students embraced the cold temperatures on Wednesday afternoon as Mount Royal University welcomed the Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada Carolyn Bennett, to the traditional Blackfoot blessing of the school’s new teepee.
As Canada begins to celebrate its 150th birthday, many Indigenous people feel that this country still has a long way to go in terms of reconciliation.
Minister Carolyn Bennett says events like this signify the people who were here prior to the non-indigenous people.
“During their lifetime they haven’t learned the real history of this country,” she said.
As part of reconciliation, MRU recently launched its Indigenous Strategic Plan that works towards building the broken relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in the community. One of the goals the Indigenous Strategic Plan has is to host more events that will incorporate cultural practices and offer more knowledge of Treaty 7.
Steve Kootney-Jobin, the Indigenous housing events coordinator for the Iniskim Centre, said the First Nation people have faced so many obstacles when it comes to seeking their education that it’s good to see post secondary institutions recognizing First Nation students.
He adds when the Indigenous flag and Metis flag were permanently flown on campus last November the students felt a sense of pride, identity, and belonging.
“Still to this day students come in and say ‘I see your flags rising high [and] that is so amazing,’” Kootney-Jobin said.
Prior to November, Kootney-Jobin said the Indigenous flags were only brought out during convocation and other events where the Iniskim centre was present. Assistant manager of security service at MRU, Candice Merrill, saw that the City of Calgary had flags year-round City hall and she wondered why MRU hadn’t done the same, considering it has a large population of Indigenous students.
“I didn’t realise the importance these flags would have, and I think that it’s not being done because people think it is just a flag,” Merrill said. “It’s a step towards reconciliation.”
Mount Royal is one of the leading post secondary institutions in Canada that has made efforts to acknowledge the Indigenous community and put programs in place that will help benefit their students.
However, the University of Calgary isn’t far behind MRU when it comes to indigenizing their campus.
Shawna Cunningham, the director of The Native Centre at the U of C says they are just in the process of developing their Indigenous strategy. One thing they are doing is getting ideas and feedback from the community and Blackfoot Elders as to what kind of implementations will be put in place.
“That might include flags, but were waiting to see what the community will say,” Cunningham said. She said that they have been working closely with Treaty 7 Elders to help guide the university through this process, “we want the content to be driven by the community,”
This kind of engagement is important to Spirit River Striped Wolf, a Mount Royal student who began attending MRU two years ago.
“It’s really inspiring and makes school really easy since I came straight from the reserve, it’s really nice to have that sense of home with me,” Striped Wolf said. Striped Wolf said as a First Nation student he is affected by Bennetts department and seeing institutions Indigenizing their campuses this way is inspiring.