Brittany Gray, a fifth-year Mi’kmaw St. Thomas University student, had a dream this summer where she was speaking with an Indigenous elder. She said it was the first time she remembered ever dreaming about Indigenous Peoples. When she woke up, she was shocked and in awe.
“What I got from that dream was, ‘now Brittany, you belong with your people, you should really start getting involved,” she said.
That was when she reached out to the Wabanaki Student Centre, a cultural and spiritual centre at STU for Indigenous student support, about starting Project AIR, which stands for ancestral Indigenous roots.
Gray, who is from Pabineau First Nation, said Project AIR is a community where Indigenous students can connect to their ancestral Indigenous roots. She didn’t mean to put air in the name of the project but it was what the acronym spelled out.
“Then I started googling the element of air and what the significance of that was … it was talking about how air is associated with the mind and the intellect,” she said.
Gray said air is also associated with the spiritual world and acts like a messenger, which aligns with the whole purpose of the project — to spread knowledge.
“Air is also the element that brings the first breath of new life,” she said. “I really hope this project could be like that for some people.”
Gray said Project AIR is in collaboration with all Indigenous Peoples who want to take part.
She mentioned that Jessica Paul, the Indigenous experiential learning coordinator, helped make her idea a reality by creating a job position for her. Gray is also working closely with Trenton Augustine, the Indigenous student services coordinator, and Miigam’agan, STU’s elder-in-residence.
Another reason that inspired Gray to create Project AIR is that she didn’t grow up on a reserve and felt isolated from her culture.
Gray said as she grew older, one of the first things related to Indigenous Peoples that she learned about was residential schools, which was traumatizing. She said she wanted to learn more about her culture’s spiritual beliefs, values and traditions.
“I had such a hard time figuring out how to get information, but also dealing with personal struggles and wanting to reach out to the community,” she said.
Project AIR will become an educational hub and safe space where students can learn about different Indigenous cultures, said Gray.
“I’m not the only student who’s in this place of disconnect,” she said.
Gray said she has been able to connect with people from different Indigenous communities. She also sent out a mass email asking Indigenous students at STU what they would like to learn about.
The project is in its beginning stages but Gray said she hopes students will be able to access Project AIR through a Moodle page that will have teachings from someone within the Indigenous community once a week.
“Maybe we could have a [livestream] with the person who is doing the teaching,” she said.
Gray said once COVID-19 has settled, she hopes to have Project AIR become face-to-face, though she also wants the online aspect of Project AIR to continue to create a database since not everyone can make it to in-person sessions.
“No matter how you self-identify as an Indigenous person, you’re so welcome to this program.”