Shades of our Sisters

Shades of our Sisters was an event held on Thursday June 21 at the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto. This event happened (intentionally or not) on National Indigenous Peoples Day. In recent years I have been learning quite a bit about the Indigenous people and culture. I am saddened that while growing up in Canada from infancy, I was never educated about Canada’s first inhabitants. Not in grade school, high school or even while earning two degrees. The only vague memory I have is of reading books in grade school about cowboys and Indians and even playing a game by the same name. Obviously, I now know that this was inappropriate.

kai-oberhauser-183707

While I have been aware that there have been many missing Indigenous men and women in Canada over the years, I have never been intimately exposed to personal information about any of these people. That is – until I attended this particular event.
Shades of our Sisters was created by two particular families to celebrate the lives of two missing and murdered Indigenous women in particular, Sonya Cywink from Birch Island, Ontario and Patricia Carpenter from Toronto, Ontario.

owen-farmer-543732
I was speechless as the event transported us back to the lives of these women. We participated in an interactive journey through their neighbourhoods, homes and interviews with their loved ones. In addition, there were exhibits that held personal artifacts that once belonged to the women.
I looked through each exhibit and I was moved by all the personal items displayed. Both women enjoyed writing poetry and some of their original work was available for viewing. There were also many photographs that spanned from their childhoods and numerous letters written on lined paper.

davidson-luna-180631

Many family members belonging to some of the missing women in Canada were present. The families of Patricia and Sonya were there and interacted with the participants. Nothing makes it more real, than watching a mother silently weep as videos of her murdered daughter play on a loop.
I was very moved by this event and also extremely saddened. While we have heard about the cases of these missing women in the news, attending this event showed me who they were. They are more than just a statistic. They are our daughters, sisters, mothers, aunties and friends.
I was honored to have attended
signature_1

I went to my first Pow Wow!

When the opportunity to attend a Pow Wow was extended to me, I jumped at it. I have been keenly interested in Indigenous culture for as long as I can remember. Unfortunately, there was little to no teaching about Indigenous culture throughout my school years, even during my University years.

Fast forward 30 years and it’s pretty awesome to see all the education available and awareness with regards to Canada’s first residents.

IMG_9890

I wasn’t sure what to expect but I was excited and eager to learn and take a lot of pics!

The Indigenous Studies Students’ Union at the University of Toronto held their second annual Honouring Our Students Pow Wow on what happened to coincide with the St. Patrick’s Day parade downtown Toronto. Again, another reason why I love Toronto. Outside you have a bustling parade lining down the street with music celebrating Irish tradition while just a few feet away in a gymnasium is the cultural experience of an Indigenous Pow Wow. Co-existence and acceptance in such a large city restores my faith in humanity. I did not attend the first one, however it was apparently overwhelmingly busy that they had to relocate to a larger venue for this year. I can’t even begin to imagine how busy it was last year because as soon as we set foot in the gymnasium this year – it was busting at the seams!

IMG_9919

The upper level of the gym had delicious smells of traditional Indigenous food wafting throughout the entire building. On the lower level along the perimeter of the gym were countless booths with items for sale. From t-shirts, traditional Indigenous jewellery, to moccasins, shawls, dream catchers and so much more. The colours and intricate details were mesmerizing to look at. While wandering about, we took the time to stop and chat with many of the sellers about their products. It was so nice to know that all these vendors were local sellers with a lot of their own handmade goods. I was excited to purchase a handmade bracelet and my daughter’s friends purchased countless earrings!

I was struck by a t-shirt that read “Canada’s first landlords”. An incredibly true statement. Unless you’re Indigenous, you’re an immigrant to Canada.

We took our seats just in time for the formal part to begin. We listened to directions from the Master of Ceremonies who provided background information, with regards to which groups were drumming or dancing. He also reminded us when picture taking was allowed as the Grand Entry along with certain prayers and songs are sacred.

IMG_9941 (Edited)

I looked around and I was struck by all the beautiful and colourful garments. Many of the singers and dancers participating were dressing in their regalia extremely close to us, so we were able to see the intricate details and beading on the garments. It was so cool to see the colours, feathers, jingles etc. I was shocked by how many different symbols and Indigenous communities there are across Ontario alone.

IMG_9913

When the Grand Entry began I was amazed. To say that this was an amazing start to the Pow Wow is an understatement. It was an incredibly moving, emotional and powerful part of the Pow Wow with participants, carrying flags, led by military veterans.

What I enjoyed most was watching families of all ages participate in the dancing and singing. There were little babies dressed in handknit moccasins to toddlers in beautifully quilted scarves to adults donning belts with hundreds of eagle feathers. I learned that the eagle feathers are so significant in Indigenous culture, as it is the highest honour one can get from an elder, as the eagle flies closest to the sun and the Gods. The more they have on their belts the more respected and honoured they are in their community.

It was an amazing day and so much more then what I expected. I knew that a Pow Wow was a traditional event involving singing, feasting and dancing. But, after attending my first Pow Wow, I learned that it is about so much more. It’s about, tradition, family, love, respect, history and friendship.

I’m already making plans to attend my next Pow Wow.

signature_1