Indigenous Studies Students’ Union offer helping hand

Sarnia’s Aamjiwnaang Jr. Hitmen hockey team receive support

Indigenous Studies Students’ Union offer helping hand

All it takes is one phone call. Earlier this month, the annual Little Native Hockey League took place in Mississauga. The league, which is for First Nation youth, consists of 209 teams and approximately 3,000 players. One team in particular caught the attention of the Indigenous Studies Students’ Union (ISSU) at the University of Toronto: Sarnia’s Aamjiwnaang Jr. Hitmen.

The Hitmen are a hockey team based out of Aamjiwnaang First Nation in Sarnia, Ontario. As a youth hockey team, they don’t receive a lot of funding. One of their coaching staff made a call for support, prompting the ISSU to take action. One of the union’s coordinators, Joshua Bowman, decided to lend a helping hand.

“They reached out to us for community connections and financial stability to see if we could make something happen,” said Bowman. With the help of the ISSU, the boys were able to afford teamwear and even have a party after the tournament.

As long-time fans of the Little Native Hockey League, Bowman and the members of the union felt that supporting the Hitmen was more than just an act of kindness. They hoped their actions could have an impact on Indigenous youth and groups in Canada.

“It’s a great opportunity for Indigenous children to flourish in an environment that’s designed for them,” said Bowman. The tournament seeks to provide players with skills such as fair play and sportsmanship, which will bring success on and off the rink. “It also makes the Indigenous youth proud to be from their communities and a culture that has historically been disenfranchised from them,” he added.

Bowman described the union’s collaboration with the Aamjiwnaang Jr. Hitmen as a success. “I just remember when I was a kid playing sports, getting a team jacket was like no other feeling quite like it. Walking around my school and showing everybody my team I played with, the group of friends that I had, just means that much more,” said Bowman.

For Bowman and his peers, bringing a little light to the kids’ day was a great reward. “In the end the impact was seeing the smile on their faces.”

Bowman added that this positive impact can help create pride in the kids’ identity, because in “a lot of educational institutions, such as ours, people have been made to feel ashamed of their identities.”

The ISSU, which is a course union under the Faculty of Arts and Science Students’ Union, strives to foster “respectful relationships within and beyond the membership in the spirit of the Indigenous values of friendship and community.” They provide services and support students who need a helping hand on campus and hold events, such as the annual Pow Wow, which brought in more than hundreds of spectators and volunteers. One of their goals is to make the University of Toronto a place where Indigenous peoples can feel accepted.

The ISSU exemplifies how people can come together and appreciate one another’s cultures. Still, there’s a lot of work yet to be done in order to create true equality. “There are media outlets everywhere that love to paint Indigenous people in a negative light, and it’s because of this Indigenous people are politically, socially and economically marginalized,” said Bowman.

Giving students, and more importantly, children, a chance to showcase their talents is necessary first step.

“We are just providing a platform for those voices to be heard, so by helping the Aamjiwnaang Jr. Hitmen and doing more events like these it’s a step in the right direction.”

“Unapologetically Indigenous”: ISSU holds second annual Pow Wow on campus

Honouring Our Students Pow Wow returns after successful first year

“Unapologetically Indigenous”: ISSU holds second annual Pow Wow on campus

U of T’s Indigenous Studies Students’ Union (ISSU) hosted its second annual “Honouring Our Students Pow Wow” at the Goldring Centre for High Performance Sport on March 11. Spectators, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous, gathered in the gymnasium to watch drummers and dancers, purchase art and merchandise from vendors, and participate in the overall atmosphere.

Highlights of the event included performances from Aztec dancers and Métis jiggers, as well as the Grand Entry, which featured dancers and flag bearers from various stakeholder communities involved in the powwow.

The powwow benefitted from the help of approximately 40 volunteers. Volunteer Coordinator and ISSU Membership Intake/Outreach Coordinator Olivia Miller told The Varsity that some volunteers had to drop out at the last minute due to extenuating circumstances, though other volunteers recruited friends to lend a hand. “It’s been this really great unifying effort,” said Miller.

Additionally, the ISSU received funding from colleges and departments across campus that contributed to the $24,550 powwow budget. ISSU Finance Coordinator Joshua Bowman said that New College contributed a significant amount. Among the major costs associated with the powwow were honoraria for dancers, drummers, and featured groups such as the Métis jiggers and Aztec dancers, which Bowman described as a way of paying respect to the gift those groups gave to the powwow.

Bowman praised colleges and departments who helped support the powwow. “A lot of us are all students in those colleges, so it was really just about supporting their own Indigenous students.” He added that many of the finances associated with the venue were covered in good faith.

Support for the powwow from across the university was a reflection of the community, added Bowman. “There is a larger amount of non-Indigenous students than Indigenous students, but at the end of the day what we like to remind people is that we’re all treaty people.”

Bowman described the Two Row Wampum, which represents one row for Indigenous people and one for non-Indigenous people. In between the two rows is a covenant chain, which Bowman said begins to rust over time. “So when we come together at events like this we’re polishing the covenant chain,” said Bowman.

The ISSU’s Membership Support Coordinator, Ziigwen Mixemong, was featured as the powwow’s Head Female Dancer and credited the ISSU for giving her a space to be “unapologetically Indigenous.”

“The powwow has just been a way that I’ve been able to use my gifts and my knowledge and bring that forth, and everyone else is able to bring their gifts and their knowledge and plurality of wisdoms that has helped develop this event,” Mixemong told The Varsity.

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“It’s amazing that we’re having our second powwow in only our third year. It’s come so far so fast, we’ve moved to a bigger and better venue and we are expecting so many people,” she added.

“It’s kind of like our version of a big party,” said Mixemong, explaining that powwows are traditionally a gathering of nations, referring to it as an “intercultural interaction.”

Canada’s federal Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs, Carolyn Bennett, was in attendance, though she did not come as a dignitary as she did the previous year. Mixemong explained that politicians and dignitaries were welcome to attend the powwow, though the focus of the powwow was a celebration of Indigenous people and culture.

“We live in what I like to call a post-reconciliation world where people are trying to use the term ‘reconciliation’ to Indigenize their efforts without actually making sure that it’s Indigenous thought that’s going into that collective process of making an event,” said Mixemong.

Last year, the ISSU hosted the first powwow at U of T in over 20 years at the Athletic Centre. “When I enrolled in university, I never thought this would be a possibility,” said Bowman. “But now this is our second annual one and I don’t see us stopping anytime soon.”

For a brief time during the powwow, up to seven police cruisers were parked outside the Goldring Centre. Police were responding to a call of “a possible imminent threat to an individual who has a matter before the courts right now,” said Toronto Police Sergeant Aiello. “The individual was a victim and she saw the individual that is before the courts right now on allegations. She feared for her safety, and because of his instabilities we feared for the safety of the individuals here at the powwow.”

Police searched the building and dispersed after realizing the individual was not present. The victim was transported home to safety.