Knowledge keepers converge on campus to share their stories

(Edmonton) Tracy Bear can’t help but be excited by a special gathering on campus May 13, when people from Aboriginal communities all over Alberta will come together with University of Alberta students, faculty and staff for a sharing of knowledge in all its forms.

For the first time, the University of Alberta is hosting an event that draws together First Nations, Inuit and Métis knowledge keepers who want to share their stories and, in the process, help build a sense of reflection and understanding for Aboriginal ways of being.

“The wonderful thing about this gathering is that it makes room for a diversity of wisdom,” said Bear, head of Aboriginal initiatives for the U of A. “We’ve invited people to submit everything from academic papers to songs and recipes, as a way to celebrate knowledge in all its forms.”

It is important for universities to recognize that wisdom also comes from outside of books and classrooms, especially since large institutions are regarded with mistrust by a people still recovering from the residential school experience, Bear added.

“Often we don’t recognize that knowledge comes in all sorts of shapes and sizes. Sometimes in an academic institution, valuable knowledge can slip by the wayside because people don’t feel it is significant.”

Known as the Amiqaaq Conference (the Inuktitut word for “share”), the gathering was inspired “by the simple idea of celebrating the lifelong learner within,” says Bear. A roster of 30 speakers, led by U of A Distinguished Scholar Susan Aglukark, will share their ideas, which range from storytelling through beadwork to research presentations on the environment, making for a vibrant day of insight.

The potential of such a mix of ideas in one room is limitless, Bear added. “Who knows what collaborations and relations can come of that?”
Amiqaaq is meant to “encourage on-campus dialogue between students and Aboriginal academics and the concept of living in understanding with Aboriginal peoples in this place we now call Canada,” Bear said. “This country has a history with indigenous people. We have this in the written word, but it also resides within the knowledge of the people. This conference will bring these stories forward,” she added.

In the process, Bear hopes that Aboriginal students and communities will see the U of A as a welcoming place. “We want to encourage our students and to help them feel this is a place of empowerment.”

The event, though created firstly for Aboriginal communities on and off campus, is open to anyone who wants to attend, with registration running up until the morning of the conference.

The sharing spirit of the Amiqaaq event kicks off with a traditional feast in Quad the evening of May 12. Beginning at 5 p.m. with a pipe ceremony, the feast honours the Papaschase people and their descendants who historically gathered with other indigenous peoples on this land.

“It will be a wonderful mix of Papaschase people coming to campus to see what we have to offer as a university, as well as having U of A people who have never celebrated a traditional feast. There will be learning on both sides,” Bear noted.

After the Amiqaaq Conference wraps up, the sharing continues May 14 as the Ben Calf Robe 30th annual powwow gets underway at the U of A Butterdome at 1 p.m.

For more information and to register for the conference go to: www.aboriginal.ualberta.ca.