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University event aims to increase knowledge of indigenous cultures

(Tom Ross - 660 NEWS)

On the heels of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission issuing 94 calls to action to improve relations with indigenous peoples, the University of Calgary has been a frontrunner.

The University has a mandatory First Nations, Metis and Inuit class for all teaching students, and on Saturday hosted an event about it. That class addresses a couple of points from the Commission, as it called on the government and post-secondary institutions to increase indigenous knowledge in the classroom.

Dr. Yvonne Poitras Pratt, an assistant professor in that program, said the ‘Eyes Open, Eyes High’ event uses arts to begin connecting people.

“And then start dialoging with other people and saying, that was really interesting, what do you think about reconciliation? What’s my role in it? And I think that’s the really important question, what’s my role. The danger, I think, is often people will step away and say oh well, that’s somebody else’s job to do,” Poitras said,

Students from Strathmore High School also performed a production called New Blood, showcasing Blackfoot history and traditions. Before that, Elder Randy Bottle, a Kainai Knowledge Keeper, also spoke to the crowd at the Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning.

A video was also shown detailing the school’s efforts on increasing indigenous education among teaching students, which the school said is especially important as the youth hold the key for reconciliation due to much of society being stuck in their ways.

“With youth and with young teachers in the classroom who are teaching a different history than what most of us have heard, or not heard, about indigenous ways of knowing being and doing,” Poitras Pratt said. “I think what we have here is hope for a brighter future for all of us.”

Using arts, like the New Blood performance, can also play a crucial part because it naturally brings other people.

“A lot of the stereotypes, a lot of the racism that surrounds indigenous people, what we have to first do is sort of break down that barrier to learning. A lot of us do it with the arts. I think that the arts are a very powerful medium, just to get people talking. And that’s the first step, we have to be able to talk to one another,” Poitras Pratt added.

After the performance, there was a question and answer session so the people in the crowd could learn even more about indigenous cultures. The University of Calgary hopes to hold more events like these as well.