Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Canada

StFX hosts inaugural Atlantic Indigenous Mentorship Network Summer Institute

August 22nd, 2018

Creating a safe, healthy, and supportive space for Indigenous learning to occur within Atlantic post-secondary institutions was the intent, and organizers of the Atlantic Indigenous Mentorship Network (Atlantic-IMN)’s inaugural Summer Institute: Weja'tu'k kina'masutiminu maqamikewiktuk (We Get Our Education From the Land), hosted Aug. 7-11 on the StFX campus, say the five-day event did just that.

“With the guidance of our Elder Advisory Circle and the planning team led by Catherine Hart, and Dr. Debbie Martin of Dalhousie University, we designed an experiential, co-learning program to support Indigenous students and students involved in interdisciplinary Indigenous health research on their academic journey,” says StFX faculty member and organizing committee member Dr. L. Jane McMillan. 

“We took students out of the classroom and on to the land to consider the importance of Indigenous rights, food security and food sovereignty with community experts. The idea was to encourage students to engage with Indigenous knowledge on the land and to open their minds and hearts to new ways of learning and sharing. It was a tremendous immersive experience for faculty and students alike and a program that we will continue to nurture and grow.”

In all, 19 people participated in the institute, including faculty, and nine undergraduate and graduate students, from StFX, Dalhousie University, Mount St. Vincent University, Trent University, and from the University of Toronto.

"As a Mi'kmaq student, participating in the Summer Institute at StFX was very meaningful for me because I got to learn so much about Indigenous food sovereignty and food systems from some of our Mi'kmaq elders, knowledge keepers, and from each other,” says participant Devann Sylvester of Membertou First Nation who graduated from StFX with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 2017 and is now in her second year of the Bachelor of Education program, for elementary. 

“I know these topics are important for our nation as Mi'kmaq people in moving forward together,” she says. “I loved how the five days of the institute involved ceremony, talking circles, field trips, traditional knowledge, discussions, feasts, and being outdoors. I became emotional at times throughout the week because I knew that I was a part of something special."

Likewise, participant Monica Ragan, a fifth year honours StFX student from Whycocomagh, NS, who is in the aquatics resource program with a focus on anthropology, said the institute was a great learning experience. 



“The Summer Institute taught me to see health and food in different ways from the western, scientific notion, which I have been educated in. Now I am critically assessing the information which is presented to me and trying to use this information to ensure I am looking at both perspectives of the issue. 

“As I learned, access to traditional foods is related to health outcomes of Indigenous groups. Therefore, one cannot assume what is ideal for someone who is European is appropriate for an Indigenous individual, especially when it comes to diet and this issue needs to be made more aware to those in the health and academic professions.”

POSITIVE IMPACT

She says the stories and people she met left a positive impact on her learning, particularly the presentation from Nadine Bernard, a graduate of the Indigenous Women Community Leadership Program at StFX, whose journey through life-changing circumstances led her to develop her own business to provide healthy and time-saving recipes for the slow cooker and to use these recipes as a tool to educate others. “It speaks volumes to her dedication and passion for helping others, but also for Indigenous food sovereignty,” she says. 

“I am doing my honours thesis about the different relationships with the Margaree-Lake Ainslie watershed in Cape Breton, and I believe the information I learned from the Summer Institute will be beneficial to add a Mi’kmaq perspective to my paper on their understanding of resource management called netukulimk.”

“Participating in the Atlantic-IMN provided me with an invaluable experience to learn from Mi’kmaq knowledge keepers, IMN mentors, and my fellow participants. It was richly rewarding to learn from people who have had very different life experiences from my own, and reassuring to encounter others who are similarly positioned or have had similar experiences,” says Keith Williams. 



“One of our mentors, Andrea Curry, shared teachings from her elders, one of which was that the ‘longest journey in life is from the head to the heart.’ I am currently enrolled as a PhD student in Educational Studies at St. Francis Xavier University. The focus of my program, and all of my previous post-secondary education to date, has been intellectual. The summer institute was, at once, profoundly personal and intellectual, which helped me to arrive at the insight that meaningful societal change is only possible when both the head and heart reciprocally inform our understandings of the world and our place in it.”

IMN is a regional network that offers mentorship, learning opportunities, and financial support, for graduate students interested in pursuing Indigenous health research. 

LAND-BASED LEARNING COURSE

During the summer institute, participants gathered at StFX to talk and learn about themes that ranged from Indigenous food sovereignty to the inter-connectiveness between people and food. Over the course of the event, participants took part in ceremony, cultural learning, land-based learning, community events, and were engaged by presentations and activities delivered by academics, Elders and knowledge holders, and community members with experience participating in Indigenous health research. 

One of the outcomes from the institute will be the creation of an interdisciplinary and it’s hoped co-institutional Indigenous land-based learning course for credit, says Dr. McMillan. 

StFX Associate Dean Dr. Cathy MacDonald, and faculty members Dr. Joanne Whitty-Rogers and Dr. Ann Fox were also participants in the event. StFX also supported the institute through an in-kind contribution from the Office of StFX Vice-President Research & Graduate Studies, Dr. Richard Isnor. 

This project is funded by CIHR Indigenous Mentorship Grants. 

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