Grandmother teachings

Miigam’agan spoke at STU last week (Cara Smith/AQ)

Miigam’agan gave “grandmother teachings” in the Wabanaki Resource Centre on Wednesday.

“I think the spirit of St. Thomas is to breach those relationships and when we start to see that we’re a lot more alike than we are not, then it really starts to create that unity and restore that balance. Then, we’ll start to feel a sense of belonging and caring for each other.”St. Thomas University’s first elder-in-residence introduced the “Wabanaki World View” at the lunchtime event, which was hosted by the aboriginal education initiative at STU and served moose stew and biscuits to the 15 or so in attendance.Miigam’agan stressed that the Wabanaki culture is relationship-based and people work as a unit.

She used the example of language. The Wabanaki people don’t use terms like “uncle” or “niece.” These titles can end up disconnecting them as people.

“If I say, as an example, my niece… which I wouldn’t even say ‘my niece’ in my language… had a son, and so that further defines my connection as I speak in English. So that little one is not my grandson as I speak in English, but if I’m speaking in my language, that little one is my family. I’m responsible.”

Ella Allen, an English professor at STU, said the simplicity of the Wabanaki teachings is intriguing.

“The practical everyday connectedness, sort of from the earth on out is something I find really rich about First Nations culture and also, the image of community. Something that we certainly have lost,” said Allen.

When asked if Allen incorporates First Nation’s literature in her classes, she said only when it’s present in the material. She’d want to have a First Nation person come in to speak to her students since she’s not an expert.

“Partly, [because] I don’t have the background. I’m awkward, I’m white, I’m part of the colonizers. Am I going to claim this literature now? So, I’m not at home with it yet.”

She said “I would feel very awkward as a white Anglo-Saxon,” if she were to teach a lot of aboriginal literature.
“I think as awareness increases, I mean, we’ve had aboriginal programs but we’ve never had this presence before, and I do think it will increase.”

Allen said cultural relationships will benefit from having the resource centre and elder-in-residence.

Concluding her talk, Miigam’agan said she understands many North Americans aren’t overly familiar with the Wabanaki culture. But she encouraged people to do more research.

“What I have shared, you don’t have to believe us. You go find out for yourself,” she said.

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