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The first of three public forums that are part of this year’s ᐊᐦᒑᐦᐠ ᒪᐢᑲᐧ ᐅᓯᐦᒋᑫᐃᐧᓂ ᐋᐧᐢᑲᐦᐃᑲᐣ (ahcâhk maskwa osihcikêwina; Spirit Bear Dialogues) was held on January 29.

Spirit Bear Dialogues underway

January 31, 2019

MacEwan University’s 2019 Interdisciplinary Dialogue is now underway. The series of forums and online discussions is an annual opportunity for students from across disciplines to take an in-depth look at a social justice issue.

In collaboration with kihêw waciston, the university's Indigenous Centre, and in partnership with University nuhelot’įne thaiyots’į nistameyimâkanak Blue Quills (UnBQ), this year’s dialogue – ᐊᐦᒑᐦᐠ ᒪᐢᑲᐧ ᐅᓯᐦᒋᑫᐃᐧᓂ ᐋᐧᐢᑲᐦᐃᑲᐣ (ahcâhk maskwa osihcikêwina; Spirit Bear Dialogues) – will focus on truth and reconciliation, but with an emphasis on Indigenous research.

We have a lot to learn from the knowledgeable scholars, Elders and Knowledge Keepers taking part in this project.
—Terri Suntjens

“It’s vital that we connect and build on meaningful relationships with Indigenous communities and organization, including UnBQ,” says Terri Suntjens, kâ-nêkânêstahk iyiniw pamihtamowina – director of Indigenous initiatives at MacEwan. “We have a lot to learn from the knowledgeable scholars, Elders and Knowledge Keepers taking part in this project.”

MacEwan students, faculty, staff and members of the community will explore Indigenous research through the lens of decolonization and reconciliation. They’ll look at contemporary efforts that centre on Indigenous knowledge and methodologies, support community-led research and ensure Indigenous ownership and control of data. The ultimate goal? To foster respectful and reciprocal relationships between Indigenous communities and academic scholars.

“We hope the dialogue will spark new conversations and a broader scholarship of decolonization and reconciliation,” says Dr. Leslie Dawson, anthropology faculty member and lead with the 2019 Interdisciplinary Dialogue organizing committee. 

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Journey to reconciliation

In the 2018 Interdisciplinary Dialogue, students and faculty from nine disciplines learned about truth and reconciliation and the impact of residential schools on Indigenous people. 


Everyone is welcome to take part in the three educational forums presented as part of the Spirit Bear Dialogues – the first was held on January 29, with panelists Roxanne Tootoosis, kihêw waciston Knowledge Keeper, Bernie Makokis, president of Iyiniw Education Institute and Darin Keewatin, an Indigenous consultant sharing their perspectives on Indigenous ways of knowing and being in our community. The next two forums are scheduled for February 13 and March 5.

For MacEwan students in 20 courses representing 12 disciplines, from anthropology to English and nursing to business, the three forums are just the beginning of the conversation.

In addition to attending the in-person forums, students answer open-ended questions posed by faculty members in online discussion forums.

“It’s an opportunity for students to learn from their peers across disciplines,” says Leslie. “It develops a student learning community and allows students to reflect on and explore a variety of topics together from multiple perspectives. As an interdependent activity, it can help students become more engaged and thoughtful learners.”

The Spirit Bear Dialogues will wrap up in April with a celebration of learning event at University Blue Quills that will feature a keynote address and a tour of the former residential school. Students participating in the dialogue will also have the opportunity to present their work at MacEwan’s Student Research Day in April. 

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