The Ryerson Powwow is back following an education week with panel discussions, art exhibits and workshops. It will run today, Sept. 20, till 6 p.m. in Kerr Hall Quad, with a feast, film screening and talent showcase.
The first day of the powwow started with a sunrise ceremony at 6 a.m., dedicated to honour the sun and ancestors. An elder at George Brown College and founder of Wandering Spirit school, Pauline Shirt, led the morning prayer for a group of 40 attendees sitting in a circle around the sacred fire. She led the ceremony with smudging purifying, which is a cleaning ritual of burning sacred medicine where individuals pass the smoke of sage — throwing medicine into the fire and passing around water.
Shirt said she decided to lead this ceremony to fulfil her responsibility as a teacher.
“As a teacher and a healer, I go to healing sessions and help people help themselves. This is my way of life. I follow our way of life. We are spiritual human beings, and we have the right to practice our way of life,” Shirt said.
Speaking about the Indigenous history and the residential schools, Shirt emphasized the importance of knowing oneself.
“Some of us had been to residential schools and weren’t brought up in our way of life. They are missing part of their beautiful culture,” Shirt said. “To be able to live in a good way of life, and to do work here on mother earth, everyone has to embrace their own selves, learn their teachings and language. There is no way I will ever change my way of life. Absolutely no one can ever change my life.”
Creative industries student, Josie Slaughter, who is a co-chair of this year’s powwow said it was important for her to get involved to raise visibility.
“I think having visibility on campus is really important. A lot of people in Toronto have little exposure to actual indigenous people,” Slaughter said. “People say rude things about me being from the reserve. That’s why I think showcasing a bunch of students working and getting degrees like any other students is important.”
Social work student Anthony Warren, also a co-chair, echoed Slaughter’s sentiment. “It’s an important cause to support because I think it’s about reclamation. Because it was forced out of my grandfather and his parents to practise our sacred rights, to practise our culture, and be ourselves… we need to raise more awareness and teach people to have a greater knowledge and respect for Indigenous peoples and our cultures,” Warren said.
From toddlers to elderly, men and women, some Ryerson students were also present at the sunrise ceremony. Continuing education student Janet Rodriguez woke up at 3:30 a.m. to join the ceremony because she lives by the Toronto Pearson Airport and had to wait for the TTC wheel-trans due to her disability.
“I care because I am a human person and I don’t want other humans to suffer for whatever the reason. Not only do I care, I know caring means that it’s going to cost me something. Not just the TTC money, but also my time and my sleep” Rodriguez said.
The closing community social of the powwow will take place on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., also in Kerr Hall Quad.