Traditional elders gathering highlights Indigenous culture
Midwinter ceremony held at STU to allow non-Indigenous people a chance to learn
This weekend's Longhouse Elders Gathering, also known as Midwinter Celebrations, brought Indigenous and non-Indigenous people together to learn about traditional Wabanaki culture.
The ceremony was held at St. Thomas University from Feb. 9 to 11.
Typically in Indigenous culture, the midwinter gathering lasts for a 10-day period and is an opportunity for elders to pass along traditional knowledge and cultural teachings to younger generations.
Miigam'agan, St. Thomas University's elder in residence, said the ceremony is meant to be a time of reflection.
"Winter is a time when life goes into hibernation. It's a time to be still, do a lot of introspecting, and conserve energy," she explained.
This year, community members decided to hold the ceremony at St. Thomas University so that non-Indigenous people could also take part and learn about Wabanaki culture, she said.
"We heard in the communities that mainstream Canadians and New Brunswickers don't really know anything about the Indigenous people in this region," she said.
"We brought our ceremony out here on campus to share our ceremony and how we conduct ourselves."
Wabanaki means "People of the Dawn" and is the name for the larger group of First Nations tribes in Atlantic Canada and the United States, including the Mi'kmaq, Maliseet, Passamaquoddy, and Penobscot.
In addition to being an opportunity for elders to pass on cultural knowledge, the gathering also provided an opportunity for First Nations community members to talk about current issues they're facing, Miigam'agan said.
One major topic of discussion was how difficult it can be for young First Nations people to figure out their cultural identity while living in a westernized society, she said
"The policies that are in place … our culture has not fit into that. It's slowly moving in, and we're starting to bring in our culture, but it's still not our own institutions," she explained.
"We need to have something that will support our identity."
Ivanie Aubinmalo is a 26-year-old Maliseet woman who now lives in Montreal.
She said she travelled to Fredericton from Montreal to participate in the gathering to help reconnect with her culture.
"It's healing for me, because I get to meet a lot of people. Just to get to hear the elders as well is really important for me," she said.
In addition to attending the gathering, she said she's planning on spending a month and a half in New Brunswick to learn the Wolastoqey language.
About 200 people attended this weekend's ceremonies. Miigam'agan said representatives from most First Nations communities in New Brunswick were in attendance, as well as many non-Indigenous people from the province's universities and the general public.