Aboriginal Awareness Week celebrates culture and sustainability

From fashion to food, events across TRU's campus encouraged celebration of Indigenous culture

Chili and Bannock by Elder Doreen Kenoras & ESTR students:

Part of Aboriginal Awarenes Week was a bannock bake-off event. Following the bake-off, Elder Doreen Kenoras partnered with Education and Skills Training (ESTR) students to cook and vend chili and bannock on campus for two days.

Bannock is a traditional staple of Aboriginal people in Canada, but students of all ethnicities flocked to the second floor of Old Main to the ESTR market during lunch hours to get their plate of chili and bannock cooked by Elder Doreen.

Doreen was born and raised on the Adams Lake Indian Band reserve – one of 17 bands that are part of the Secwepemc Nation. She is one of the elders of the community and TRU.

This event marked the third year of this partnership. Leanne Mihalicz, ESTR instructor, said that with each year this event has grown in its reach and size.

Misty Antoine, of TRU’s Aboriginal department, organized the operation of the events.

“I truly enjoy partnering with ESTR and working with the students,” Antoine said.

Fashion Show:

TRU’s very first Aboriginal fashion show was held this year on Feb. 28. Local BC designers Jill Setah, Dinah Guichon and Ashley Michel showcased Aboriginal fashion. Donations collected at the show were forwarded to the cause of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG).

Jill Setah’s daughter Samantha Weatherbee walks down the runway in clothes that her mother designed for her. (Vlad Parra/The Omega)

The event was organized by Kristen Johnny, a masters student and an Aboriginal mentor at TRU.

“TRU is one of the very few universities that does a celebration for its Aboriginal people and that makes me happy,” Johnny said.

One of the fashion designers, Jill Setah, recently showcased her clothes at International Paris fashion show. Having done shows all over Canada, she was excited to be at TRU.

Setah’s attempt was to create clothes that not just First Nations people, but everyone can wear. Speaking specifically about cultural appropriation, Setah believes there are respectful ways in which you can wear another culture’s clothing.

“I don’t have a problem with non-First Nations people wearing my clothes as long as they conduct themselves in a good manner,” Setah said. “I would love to see actors and singers wearing my clothes. As long as people are not wearing it on Halloween, I don’t have a problem.”

Setah’s fashion line drew inspiration from Michelle Obama. Setah called her “sexy and classy”.  She designed them based on Haida designs. Indigenous clothes make Setah feel proud of her heritage.

“Our people have come such a long way. My parents were in residential schools. Connecting to our culture and language is very essential to me,” she said. “Our language is becoming extinct so it’s very important for me to preserve it and pass it on to my children.”

Following the show, Chief Joe Alphonse of the Tl’etinqox (Alexis Creek) people spoke of what reconciliation means to the Tŝilhqot’in (Chilcotin) Nation. Alphonse is an active promoter of Indigenous rights.

In an exclusive interview with Omega he expressed that “the government always has had an attitude of denial which is disrespectful. By changing policies and recognizing our rights, they’re showing respects.”

Apart from Aboriginal Awareness Week, Alphonse didn’t seem satisfied with TRU’s efforts to embrace Aboriginal culture.

However, he still showed pride in the Aboriginal students at TRU.

“This generation of our people are real warriors,” Alphonse said. “They’re flaunting their culture.”

Speaker Elder Ed Jensen:

Elder Ed Jensen spoke at TRU about sustainability, and Tk’emlups Land, Water and Resources. The Aboriginal community has had a long history of exercising sustainable practices.

“We’re survivors. We got through chicken pox and everything,” Jensen said. “It’s a result of the thousands of years of respect to the land and what’s under and over it.”

The knowledge of preserving nature is passed on through generations. Jensen, who is named after his grandfather, received his knowledge from his grandfather.

The biggest problem about sustainability today, according to Jensen, is the economy. In Jensen’s views, people care more about making money rather than thinking about nature. Consequently, people cut down trees, kill more fish and engage in the fur trade for their profits. Personally, Jensen said that he has not harvested salmon for the past two years as it will negatively impact the environment.