On Treasures and Good Ways: First Nations House @ U of T

There is something about First Nations House at U of T that keeps pulling me back to its colourful walls and its people. When I walk in, I feel at home. Last week, I met with the wonderful Lee Maracle. This week, I stopped by to learn a little bit more about the programs and services offered at FNH, and to check out FNH’s Resource Centre. Have you ever felt a bit uneasy or lost when trying to ask about First Nations history and philosophies? Perhaps because you’re not sure what words and terms to use? If the answer is yes, you and I are in the same boat. Rochelle Allan, FNH’s Program Director, let me know that part of the work of FNH is to create a space where anyone, First Nations or not, can ask questions that might otherwise seem awkward or out of place. Luckily, you do not need to use so many words at all. You just need to have mutual respect and an open mind.
Rochelle and Tracy at First Nations House.
Rochelle gave me a rundown of the programs and services that FNH offers. Here are some that stood out for me!
Beading, Drumming, Dance and Food: Interested in creating a beautiful work of art or drumming rhythm while also learning about the philosophy that underlies your creation? Look no further. First Nations House programming offers artistic and cultural workshops, through which you can create and come to know different Aboriginal ways of being. Aboriginal Awareness Week: Beat the winter blues with a lot of warmth and connections with Aboriginal Awareness Week. An annual celebration of indigenous cultures that takes place a week before reading week at U of T, there are lots of events to explore. Roundtable discussions, craft workshops, traditional teachings, and cultural exchanges abound! The goal? An opportunity for knowledge exchange in order to dispel myths and stereotypes about Aboriginal peoples. Indigenous Writers Gathering: This year marks the sixth year of U of T’s nationally recognized Indigenous Writers’ Gathering, hosted by First Nations House. Last year, the festival featured renowned authors Richard Wagamese and award-winning poet Marilyn Dumont, among many others. The festival was made complete by music performances, author readings, and workshops. Empowerment, laughter, learning, community-building…you name any good thing and you’ll find it here. Stay tuned for this year’s festival, which will take place in October. First Nations Resource Centre: Don’t be fooled by its small size. The First Nations House Resource Centre is a wonder in and of itself, carefully managed by Jackie Hamlin-Esquimaux. I stepped into the Resource Centre to take a look. Jackie put her lunch aside, and, in a manner that I am just getting used to, began telling me about the Resource Centre using circles of stories, her own experiences, and wisdom.
FNH Resource Centre
‘Every book is a treasure’ she said, as she pointed to the shelves around her. As a resource centre and not a library, resources can be scanned or read in the reading room, but are not to be taken outside. The books are not classified using the same system you would find at Robarts or any other library at U of T (which tends to be the Library of Congress system). Rather, they are arranged based on the Brian Deer system of classification. (Brian Deer was a Mohawk from Kahnawke who developed this system in the 1970s, in order to catalogue or describe the diversity of indigenous histories and cultures which he felt could not be captured by the usual library systems. Here is what the classification system looks like.)
Jackie lets me know that she has adapted this system to suit the needs of resources and students here. In Canada, it is easy to map out Aboriginal Nations from East to West. Canadian Aboriginal books and resources are sorted accordingly. However, American Aboriginal Nations cannot be as simply mapped out, so they are instead sorted alphabetically. There is so much to learn in the world...I could go on and tell you more about what Jackie taught me- but perhaps you'd like to visit her yourself? I'm pretty sure you'll come away with something you never knew :D. You can go and visit First Nations House anytime you fancy, however, there is an Open House on Wednesday, September 4 from noon until 2pm. Stop by and say hello! -Aziza

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