Project AIR, an idea to teach Indigenous students about their ancestral Indigenous roots, is now being put in motion.
Brittany Gray, a fifth-year Mi’kmaw St. Thomas University student, said she hopes the project will become available on a Moodle page for Indigenous students in February. It will cover four subjects.
“We have spirituality, we have historical teachings, we have historical trauma and then we have holistic wellness just to wrap everything up,” said Gray.
Gray first had the idea for Project AIR in the summer of 2020 when she dreamt she was speaking to an Indigenous elder. This was the first time an Indigenous person appeared in Gray’s dreams. She woke up in shock and felt she needed to become more involved in her community.
Gray said teaching holistic wellness will bring light and healing to the lessons since they will cover Indigenous issues that happened in the past.
“We’re not just focused on the history and the negative things that happened,” she said. “I want people to be a little bit more conscious about what were beliefs and what happened even before Christopher Columbus.”
Graydon Nicholas, STU’s Native Studies chair, has helped Gray record some of the teachings that will go up on the Moodle page. The first topic will consist of Aboriginal rights, their way of life and territory pre-contact.
Project AIR is based on three teaching pillars: culture, community and knowledge. Knowledge will consist of teachings from the Wabanaki members, the cultural and community components will include ceremony groups and the community pillar will also have workshops.
“The three pillars are very interconnected with all parts of Project AIR. I just want to try and define them in certain ways that we’re going to be practicing,” said Gray.
Tiger Levi, the Indigenous student representative on the STU Students’ Union, said he thinks Project AIR is a brilliant idea.
“Being able to connect to your culture in that way is very essential to the Indigenous population. I think that having a platform to be able to do that and be able to do that comfortably is just amazing,” he said.
Levi said what Project AIR is doing is amazing because people who either moved or lived off the reserves are disconnected from their spiritual roots and this is an opportunity to reconnect.
“Having an outlet like Project AIR is something we need or needed for a long time. I don’t know how to say how much I appreciate that,” he said.
Levi said Project AIR is a necessary step when it comes to decolonizing the university. He sees it as a step towards reciprocity for non-Indigenous and Indigenous students.
“To have the rights respected and knowledge in history respected from the university with this project is a good step forward,” he said.
Gray was hoping to have some in-person components to the project like ceremonies with students and elders but COVID-19 changed those plans.
“The way that we’re working around that is, we wanted to make these informational webinars about specific ceremonies,” she said.
From these webinars, students will be able to learn how a ceremony is conducted and its spiritual significance. Students will also learn how to apply this to benefit their daily lives.
Though Gray will graduate this year, she wants to make sure Project AIR continues to take place at STU and expands to other universities in the future.
“[University of New Brunswick] is so close and I have been connecting with Indigenous elders knowledge keepers from UNB for the project right now,” she said.
Project AIR also has other teachings in the works. Gray said she wants to do a dream interpretation teaching in the future since Project AIR started with a dream.
“Let’s bring it full circle.”