Aboriginal Awareness Week launches

The Office of Aboriginal Initiatives (OAI) set out to create an opportunity for Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Laurier students alike to come together and become educated about various aspects of Aboriginal cultures with Wilfrid Laurier University’s inaugural Aboriginal Awareness Week.

Throughout the week, which began with the opening ceremonies Mar. 7, the OAI will host numerous events to promote Aboriginal culture and to increase awareness about the office’s presence on campus.

The opening ceremonies held in the Science Building courtyard featured a lively performance by the Iroquois, Six Nations dance troupe Gadaihongwas. The impressive turnout for the occasion has the organizers hopeful that there will be similar attendance numbers at the rest of the week’s events.

An “Aboriginal 101” session will be held in the Grad Lounge on Mar. 9. The event, fifth-year student and Aboriginal student intern Kandice Baptiste explained, “Will be an opportunity to ask everything you always wanted to know but never felt comfortable asking about Aboriginal cultures.” The final event of the week will be a performance by renowned comedian Don Burnstick on Friday night in the Turret.

Between its Waterloo and Brantford campuses, Laurier has an ever-expanding population of approximately 350 to 400 Aboriginal students. In order to meet the needs of the growing number of Aboriginal students, WLU formed the Office of Aboriginal Initiatives in Aug. 2010 as a means of introducing Aboriginal students to one another and offering support.

In the few months since the OAI was created, it has become a well-utilized resource for Laurier’s student community. “We meet three new students a week, some who haven’t even self-identified, but who have felt compelled to reach out to us,” Aboriginal student support services co-ordinator Melissa Ireland explained.

Baptiste said she understood why Aboriginal students at Laurier have been so eager to get involved in the initiative and stated, “Prior to this, something was definitely missing.” In her first four years at WLU, Baptiste was on the varsity women’s basketball team. While she made lots of friends, she was, “surprised at how many of them thought that I lived in a teepee, or didn’t really know anything about Aboriginal culture.”

Ireland, who has been heavily involved in organizing Aboriginal Awareness Week, is hopeful that these events will “generate knowledge and awareness about the growing Aboriginal community at Laurier.” She is optimistic that in coming years, the events will continue to improve and evolve with, “a greater focus on Métis and Inuit involvement.”

“It will let people know that there is an Aboriginal population at Laurier, and will provide them with an opportunity to educate themselves.”