This year’s Student Sustainability Summit, partnered with the Alberta Student Leadership Summit, brought Indigenous issues to the forefront of discussions. While Indigeneity may not have been the explicit focus of the joint summit, many speakers, myself included, highlighted how Indigenous issues are everyone’s issues.
As an Indigenous woman, I am often disappointed with the lack of Indigenous voices and views at workshops. While the problem of settlers speaking for Indigenous people has gotten better in the last few years, it has not disappeared. But with this summit, I was both pleasantly surprised and emotional about the Indigenous speakers and content included.
When I first signed up for the summit, I was doing it because I, as well as the amazing group I was working with, had something to say. Our topic was “Reconciliation: What does it mean?” and our aim was to create a dialogue with audience participants on what this word means and entails. So, I guess in a way, my motives were a bit selfish. As I learned, most people don’t even know it means to be non-status Indigenous. And, in case you don’t, we are Indigenous peoples who, according to the Canadian government, are not eligible for status as Indigenous peoples due to our bloodline (ie. our status parents and/or grandparents married non-status people) and a multitude of complex reasons that continue to change over the years. (Learn more about status.)
The summit had sessions that were concerned with topics such as reconciliation; the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples; sustainable energy and practices in Indigenous communities that aim to establish economic sovereignty for the First Nations; and intellectual protection for Indigenous peoples’ data and knowledge.
Keynote speaker Larron Northwest, from Samson Cree Nation, connected Indigenous life with sustainability. Northwest highlighted the ways in which solar projects help his community economically, socially, and environmentally. These projects have created jobs and renewable energy, and are helping Samson Cree Nation meet their goals as protectors of Mother Earth. Installing solar panels is a small contribution to reducing the carbon footprint globally, but a contribution nonetheless.
Each session I attended took a new and amazing approach to discussing how we are all connected. Many of the presenters showed how different Indigenous groups are working to become more sustainable, as we all should in our daily lives.
What I became more impressed with was the diversity of participants at each session. While the keynote had the most audience members, the other sessions that I attended had a wide mix of settlers, newcomers, and Indigenous people attending and discussing the topics. The different perspectives made these sessions particularly rich and enjoyable.
The final day of the summit was dedicated to sustainability-related workshops, including an amazing panel in the morning that discussed food sustainability in Edmonton.
For the workshop component, I — and (surprise, surprise) the cohort of other Indigenous students who attended all the same sessions as I did the day before — went to “A Walk Through Colonization” organized by Ryan “Gitz” Derange, a Siksikatsitapi (Blackfoot) and Dene man from both Treaty 7 and Treaty 8. This was, by far, the most amazing part of the summit. I left with a greater understanding of colonization, and though I was extremely drained of emotion, I wanted to share this experience with my colleagues.
If you ever hear of Derange holding this workshop, go. You won’t regret it. But be prepared for an emotionally packed day.
By the end of the summit, I was exhausted yet quite grateful. It was an amazing experience that showed the increasing openness of the academy to Indigenous ways of knowing and Indigenous presence. I was honoured to go through this experience with so many other people and have the opportunity to exchange knowledge with so many amazing students and speakers.
I hope to participate in this summit again next year and to bring more people to start a dialogue for years to come.
About the Author
Samantha is a non-status Indigenous woman from northern New Brunswick. She is a mother of a Mi’kmaq 7 year-old daughter and a PhD student in environmental and Indigenous history in Canada. While she focuses on impacts of hydroelectric development on Indigenous peoples in Canada, she uses traditional knowledge within both her research and life. This year, she co-created a student Truth and Reconciliation Commission Committee and hopes to continue advocating for sustainability and Indigenous lives.