Faculty’s annual Indigenous Celebration bursts onto the virtual stage
Posted on Friday, October 9, 2020
By Jessa Gamble
After an introductory lecture on Indigenous health and a discussion for first-year students with a traditional healer or knowledge keeper, the Faculty of Medicine’s annual Indigenous Celebration—recorded for a remote audience at the Wabano Centre for Aboriginal Health—was made available for viewing by MD students on September 9th. Though the feasting component of the afternoon was not possible under current pandemic conditions, the ceremony showcased the undaunted vitality of our Indigenous community and the hard work put into cultural preservation and resilience.
The event opened with an introduction by Indigenous Program Coordinator Lisa Abel and a Cree honour song performed by mother and son Elaine and Theland Kicknosway.
With sage and sweetgrass, Algonquin Elder Annie Smith St-Georges—aided by her husband Robert St-Georges—carried out a smudging ceremony welcoming the incoming medical students to the unceded Algonquin territory on which uOttawa’s campuses rest. Further opening prayers were offered by Métis Elder Reta Gordon and Inuk Elder Sally Webster. All three elders serve on the UGME Indigenous Program Steering Committee.
After welcomes from Dr. Bernard Jasmin, the dean of the Faculty of Medicine; Dr. Melissa Forgie, vice-dean of Undergraduate Medical Education and Dr. Darlene Kitty, director of the MD Indigenous Program, the online audience was treated to several cultural performances.
First up was Theland Kicknosway (pictured above), who in 2018 at the age of 14 became the youngest person ever to receive a prestigious Indspire award, for his leadership in Culture, Heritage and Spirituality. His skillful and beautiful hoop dance evoked transformation and the circular nature of Indigenous cosmologies, while portraying shifting animals including a soaring eagle.
Next, Heidi Langille and Samantha Kigutaq-Metcalfe faced off in the Inuit breathing game of throat singing. The pair explained how the contest is conducted with a leader and a follower, each trying to outlast and trip up the other. They followed up with a whispering, melodic lullaby throat song from Baker Lake, Nunavut and an imitation of seagulls. As finale, Langille and Kigutaq-Metcalfe performed a Nunavik song about a runt of the litter who became the leader of its dogsled team. Each song was broken by peals of laughter from the two women, in keeping with tradition.
Clayton Longboat and Belle Powless, Mohawk from Six Nations, spoke about the importance of living on the land—and eating country food as medicine—in bringing health to mind, body and soul. They performed the women’s shuffle dance, with Longboat singing and playing a water drum representing the womb, while Powless danced a representation of Sky Woman massaging soil into Turtle’s shell. Both then performed the fast-paced Smoke Dance, a men’s war dance meant to energize warriors and display fancy footwork.
Prairie Fire, a sibling trio comprised of Hunter, Riley and Jacob McKenzie, rounded out the afternoon with some Métis jigging, performed to fiddle music, beginning with the Red River jig that tells a story about a man sitting by the river who tunes his fiddle to a sound coming over the hills. Sashes bouncing furiously, they concluded with the accelerating Orange Blossom Special jig—evoking a train gaining speed—which is dedicated to all the Métis who worked on the railroad between Canada and the United States.
The closing honour song and prayer brought the Indigenous Celebration full circle.