From October 31 to November 4, U of T held its Indigenous Education Week, focusing on the theme “Death and Dying.” The events included performances; lectures on systematic racism in health care, collective healing, and day schools; and trainings, and occurred both in person and online.
“Natural Law” lecture
The 2022 Dr. Marguerite (Peggy) Hill Memorial Lecture on Indigenous Health was held on November 3, with keynote speaker Morningstar Mercredi. The event was presented by the Medical Alumni Association, the Office of Indigenous Health at Temerty Faculty of Medicine, and the Centre for Wise Practices in Indigenous Health at Women’s College Hospital.
Dr. Jason Pennington, a general surgeon at Scarborough General Hospital and assistant professor at U of T, began by introducing Dr. Marguerite (Peggy) Hill’s remarkable journey in medicine and her profound contributions to patient-centred care. St. Michael’s Hospital anesthesiologist Dr. David McKnight subsequently delivered a land acknowledgment then called up Elder Kawennanoron Cindy White, who offered a message of thanksgiving before the event’s commencement.
Emily Simmonds, researcher at the Centre for Wise Practices in Indigenous Health, then introduced Mercredi, a multimedia creative and advocate for the criminalization of the forced and coerced sterilization of Indigenous, Métis, and Inuit women. Mercredi has drawn upon her expertise in numerous channels of artistic expression to raise awareness about systemic racism toward Indigenous communities, particularly in the context of the Canadian health care system.
During her lecture, which was titled “Natural Law,” Mercredi spoke on themes of collective grief, genocide, and healing while sharing her experiences with the day school system — which the Canadian government and Christian churches enforced alongside the residential school system. She paid homage to those who did not survive forced sterilization and described the visceral feelings of devastation that can accompany intergenerational trauma.
Mercredi also acknowledged the work of Attorney Alisa Lombard, Dr. Maggie Hodgson, and Buffy Sainte-Marie as sources of inspiration, and highlighted the importance of federal Bill S-250, sponsored by Senator Yvonne Boyer, which aims to criminalize forced sterilization.
Simmonds then invited Elder White to join Mercredi in a discussion about the role of art and ceremony in the journey toward healing. At the end of the event, Elder White offered a message of gratitude and closed the event with an eagle song.
On November 2, the Día de los Muertos Collective presented a performance by the multidisciplinary Latin American group Tocani in collaboration with Hart House and First Nations House. The Dia de Los Muertos Collective is a nonprofit organization comprising four artists who employ a unique blend of music, dance, and visual components to communicate ancient teachings and stories, some of which are centred on Latin America and ancestral mysticism. The performance was a celebration and appreciation of both the group’s and Turtle Island’s ancestors, honouring the relationships between Indigenous cultures.
The musical, dance, and visual elements in the performance, as well as the characters and costumes, brought ancient stories, teachings, and contemporary narratives to life. One of the stories focused on the devastating history of residential schools. Other narratives included a story on the journey from youth to old age, as well as a story about wisdom, as symbolized by an owl.
The performance began with a smudging ceremony. The room was then taken over by a combination of percussion and wind instruments — ancient drums, windpipes, and shells — which connected the audience with ancestral sounds and stories. The show was divided into two halves, with a musical interlude provided by two additional performers who played instruments and sang captivating melodies.
Other events for the Indigenous Education Week included remote student training on reflecting on Indigenous Land Acknowledgements and the UTM Indigenous Podcast Club. The Podcast Club now hosts a bookclub-like event every Wednesday at the UTM Indigenous Centre where students will listen to a podcast by an Indigenous content creator.
Later this month, the Office of Indigenous Initiatives will hold a two part student training called “Speaking Our Truths: The Journey Towards Reconciliation.” The event will take place online from 1:00 to 3:00 pm on November 17 and 24.