The four-day “Reading, Writing, Storytelling, Viewing: Researching How Cultural Forms Support Reconciliation” symposium in July brought together researchers and faculty members from around the world to explore and promote reconciliation.
Canadian Indigenous scholars connected with international scholars to discuss the effects of reading, writing, storytelling and viewing films on mental well-being and resilience. The event included scholarly presentations, panel discussions, workshops, a poster presentation session, and participants even had the opportunity to get out of the lecture halls and into the river valley courtesy of a session led by Dwayne Donald, an associate professor of education from the University of Alberta.
The idea for the symposium came from MacEwan University’s efforts in recognizing the role and responsibility of educational institutions in answering the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls to action, explains Dr. Paul Sopcak, faculty member in the Faculty of Arts and Science and coordinator of Student Conduct, Community Standards and Values in Student Affairs.
“One of the most exciting outcomes was the open and honest discussion that took place about the difficulty of and obstacles to reconciliation,” says Paul. He also highlights attendees’ increased awareness and knowledge of Indigenous matters through the river valley walks, Norma Dunning’s reading from her short story collection, and the screening of Tasha Hubbard’s Birth of a Family. “The amount of positive feedback on the impact the symposium had on participants has been meaningful and rewarding.”
Paul and his co-organizers Dr. Katherine Sinclair (assistant professor of anthropology), Keestin O’Dell (student advisor and recruiter for kihêw waciston Indigenous Centre) and Kevin Hood (associate professor in the Faculty of Health and Community Studies) are still in the process of discussing how best to carry forward the symposium’s momentum and proceed with everything they and their attendees have learned.
One of the group’s follow-up activities is to support Ashley Albert-Hunter, peer advisor in kihêw waciston, as she travels to the World Indigenous Cancer Conference to present her autoethnography, which she explains is a way to fully express her story in whatever way it arises, and then apply that “free expression” to a much larger issue or story. Here, she shares her experience at the symposium.
Q. How did you come to be involved at the reconciliation symposium?
After reading Dr. Dwayne Donald's paper in one of Dr. Sinclair's classes, I couldn't miss the opportunity to take part in the river valley walk and listen to other Indigenous authors that I have read or have had conversations surrounding various related topics that they were presenting. And thankfully, I heard even more presenters speak to topics that did not cross my mind.
Q. What did you learn from the experience?
I learned a lot. A few speakers stood out more for me than others. Harold R. Johnson's "The Power of Story" left me with the message that "the story you tell yourself is one that will become yourself; you have the power to choose the genre.”
David Haunauer's presentation, the "Tree of Life," had left me to explore what an autoethnography is and what it could look like in various ways.
Dr. Dwayne Donald's talk spoke to me the most. The ways he spoke about ethical relationality aligned with teachings my elders and knowledge keepers have taught me at a younger age, but in different ways. Reconciliation has always been apart of our teachings, except we called it miyo wicehtowin and it is a much deeper lesson than simply repairing structural damage committed. I love hearing Indigenous scholars apply Cree words, Blackfoot words, just Indigenous languages in general. They carry a much different and deeper meaning and it resonates in a much different way for me as a young Indigenous scholar. Sacredness within academia is more meaningful than ensuring a citation is correct.
Q. What is an autoethnography and what specifically is yours about?
For me, an autoethnography is a way to freely express my story in whatever way it arises, then go back to that free expression and apply it to a much larger issue or much larger story. There are many systemic issues that have given rise to why I went through so many challenging experiences as I have at such a young age, and there are still many lessons that I need to learn in order to help others re-write and understand their stories as well. An autoethnographic approach is just the beginning, and I do this through Instagram posts, blogs, Facebook documentation and face-to-face approaches.
Q. How has the symposium prepared you for next month's World Indigenous Cancer Conference?
It helped me see that there is no "one way" to share my story. I have seen people come in with no script, no direction and they spoke truthfully and honestly. I have seen people come in with a big projector, notes and timed speeches. I have seen others speak from an objective perspective while others spoke from a subjective perspective. Whichever way I decide to tell my story will be right because it is mine.