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Amnesty International members learn about indigenous cultures

Five boys from Upper Canada College’s Amnesty International Club, along with seven girls from Havergal College, ventured to Toronto’s Government of Canada building on Nov. 28.

A lodge called Dodem Kanonhsa, which translates to “Lodge for Learning,” was built on the sixth floor more than 20 years ago. Since then it has been pivotal in educating non-indigenous people about the cultures of a variety of indigenous nations.

Even before arriving at the lodge, the group was amazed to see a camp set up outside the building. Its purpose is to educate the rest of society, particularly young people, about the lack of respect that the Canadian government is still giving to indigenous peoples. After talking to some of the people at the camp, I found out they had been there since July 29, when Canada’s federal and provincial leaders cancelled a meeting to discuss child suicides in remote indigenous communities. The meeting still hasn’t been rescheduled.

The group began the day with a smudging ceremony which, in some indigenous cultures, is considered to be a way of cleansing one’s mind and body, similar to meditation. The participants then set their intentions for the day to remain grounded and focused on the present moment.

“I felt calm and ready to learn after this practice and, in fact, was very productive with a clear mind that evening when doing my homework,” says Amnesty member Robbie Evans.

The participants were immersed in indigenous cultures throughout the day and learned a lot about what has brought Canada to the disconnect where it is today. They learned that one of the very few commonalities between all indigenous nations is where they obtain knowledge. It comes from the elders.

Indigenous culture is one that lives off the land and supports a peaceful relationship with the Earth. Teachings are obtained from experiential learning as opposed to our education system, which has much more hypothetical and theoretical knowledge within a curriculum.

Information is passed down through generations by elders, and it’s essential to give a gift in order to receive their teachings, which can vary from nation to nation. In the Toronto area it’s tobacco, which is a medicine.  Elders can’t share their teachings without a gift to give to the spirits in honour of their students.

The participants also discussed indigenous science for quite a bit of the day. Maria, who’s Mayan, is the knowledge keeper at Dodem Kanonhsa. She exposed the group to the notion of transgenerational trauma, which is the inexplicable pain suffered by one generation that always transfers, in some capacity, to the next. She also suggested that it’s a major factor in the isolation of many indigenous communities today.

Why did the participants learn all of this? It might not have a direct impact on their lives, but the systems that we partake in everyday are forcing indigenous peoples to continue to suffer even today. The group members were appreciative of gaining another incredibly important perspective on reconciliation and to understand the perspectives that we, as a community, must consider when reconciling as a unified nation and no longer postponing an issue that concerns us all.

By Shaan Hooey, UCC Amnesty International Club co-head

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