New Brunswick·Feature

Bringing the circle back together: Students unite against racist posters at UNB campus

An event at the University of New Brunswick had more than 100 students, faculty and members of the community dancing, singing and holding hands in response to racist posters around campus last week.

More than 100 people attended the event in response to the racist posters found on campus last week

Chelsea Cullins was sitting in her office when she first heard about the racist posters dispersed across the University of New Brunswick's Fredericton campus.

"I didn't even want to believe the racism would still be so strong," said Cullins.

The recruitment and marketing officer of the Mi'kmaq-Wolastoqey Centre experienced racism herself when she was a teenager.

But she didn't want to focus on that.

Instead, she wanted to create a safe environment for students who witnessed the racist posters.

So with Imelda Perley, UNB's elder-in-residence, and a few other coworkers, Cullins organized the All My People Unity and Circle of Healing Gathering.

It was hosted at UNB's south gym on Wednesday evening "to heal the ones who want to hurt but also heal the ones who are hurting," said Perley.

More than 100 people showed up, including UNB and St. Thomas University students, faculty members and members of the community. 

"We felt the campus needed this," said Cullins.

Brittany Campbell, a third year arts student at UNB, was one of the students who helped take down the racist posters.

"It was disturbing. I threw them in the garbage."

She was surprised with the amount of people who showed up to the gathering.

"I am excited to see how this strengthens the community against hatred," she said.

People from all religions, cultures and backgrounds were invited to the event.

The ceremony was led by Perley, who said the key word to remember from the event is "circle."

"Sometimes we forget and we leave the circle. When the circle is broken by racism or injustices, our first response to anything negative like that is to try to bring the circle back."

The practice known as 'smudging' aimed to replace the dark cloud of negativity that had been floating throughout the university's hallways since last week with a fresh new air of good vibes.

"We go around with the herbs, the bowl and the smoke. We cleanse our ears so that we don't hear any of that negative. We go over with the smoke and we cover our eyes so we don't see any of that negative. And then elder Imelda [Perley] will go around and just clean the air and create that positive ceremonial ritual energy and space," said Cullins.

Traditional drumming eventually broke a silence in the room. Perley said they represented a person's heart beat. Some sang while others danced in a circle while holding hands.

"When we move to the left we honour all our grandmothers before us, then we move to the right and we honour all the grandfathers before us," she said. "We dance to the centre so that we all know that we all belong together. And we make it strong by stretching it out again."

A wooden bowl with water was also carried around the circle "to honour the Wolastoqiyik, and cherish all that it does for all the people and the environment," said Cullins.

Perley said she would like to see this event become a tradition at the university.

"We don't attack hate with hate, we don't protest with the loud voices that hurt. What we do is put the circle back together."

All photos taken by Maria Jose Burgos.