"There is Always Room in the Circle"

September 30, 2022

An inspiring conversation with award-winning author Monique Gray Smith, a self-guided tour of various resources, books and films, as well as a fireside chat with Indigenous knowledge holders and artists Angela and Gabriel George – these were just some of the highlights of the inaugural Indigenous Education Week hosted by the Faculty of Education between September 26 – 30, 2022, as we welcomed students and grounded ourselves in our collective and individual responsibilities in the journey towards truth and reconciliation.

The week’s events were opened with a blessing from Elder Margaret, and Dean Kris Magnusson invited all Education students, faculty and staff to become active partners in the reconciliation process. “Knowing and understanding is not possible without doing, and reconciliation is not possible without ‘reconciliACTION’ ” he said.

In a deeply personal talk, Monique Gray Smith spoke about the education of hearts, minds and spirit, and the power of storytelling in healing the intergenerational effects of the trauma experienced by the children who had attended residential schools and their families. “For me, reconciliation is about making the invisible visible,” she said. Monique called on students, faculty and staff to transform education by giving voice to all and rebuilding our relations to the land, water and each other. “There is always room in the circle,” she added.

Throughout the week, the Office of Indigenous Education showcased its activities and the comprehensive supports offered to students. Other highlights of the week included special film screenings for “Beyond Being Silenced Gyaa Isdlaa,” introducing the Haida potlach ceremony, and “Mary Two-Axe Early: I am Indian Again,” featuring the powerful story of Mary Two-Axe Earley (Mohawk) who fought for more than two decades to challenge sex discrimination against First Nations women.

September 28, we gathered in the Indigenous Garden and lit the inaugural fire with knowledge holders, Gabriel George and Angela George. The George family along with members of the Səl̓ilw̓ətaʔɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) Nation conducted the sacred ceremony to awaken the ground in June 2020 to begin the development of the Garden. The Indigenous Garden is a welcoming learning space for all students, faculty and staff within the Faculty of Education, and at Simon Fraser University, as well as local Indigenous communities. Sitting together in circle, Angela and Gabriel spoke about the importance of cherishing our individual gifts and nurturing traditional knowledge systems. “Every step in education widens the path for others,” said Angela George. 

In her remarks on the purpose and intent of the Indigenous Education week, Dr. Michelle Pidgeon, Associate Dean of Indigeneity ʔək̓ʷstənəq ts'up'new̓ásentas asked us all to reflect and think about what actions we can take up beyond this week. She launched a powerful call to action, noting: “As educators and as Canadians we have a responsibility to move this country forward in inclusive ways that respect and honour the Indigenous ways of being, knowing and doing.”