Speaker series shares Indigenous knowledge with community

Augustana’s Indigenous Speaker Series is one way the campus is working — with the support of the community — towards reconciliation.

Sydney Tancowny - 30 June 2022

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Images from Indigenous Speaker Series events on “Reflections on ‘Uncovered: Truths About Indian Residential Schools,’ ” “Noopiming: The Cure for White Ladies” and “National Indigenous Peoples’ Day with Richard Van Camp.” (Richard Van Camp photo by William Au).

As was true everywhere, the COVID-19 pandemic required Augustana to adapt. When in-person events were no longer possible, campus staff worked to move programming online.

That decision would eventually lead to an event that drew the largest audience in Augustana’s history – and one of the largest across the entire University of Alberta. 

Augustana’s Indigenous Engagement Advisory Committee saw early on that the online model presented new opportunities. While the model allowed Augustana to continue offering events to the community, it also made it possible to welcome viewers from across the country and, indeed, across the globe. The committee recognized the potential to create Indigenous programming to re-engage students and alumni during a time of physical distancing. This included the Augustana Indigenous Speaker Series.

Originally imagined as a three-part webinar series in the Winter 2021 term, these events featured Knowledge Keeper Bruce Cutknife, who spoke on Indigenous place names, residential schools and treaties. These original three events garnered some of the highest registration numbers that year, often doubling the expected attendance for in-person events. The attendance demonstrates that community members are interested in listening — and are also eager to learn more. 

“We decided to look at the Indigenous Speaker Series through a broader lens — to intentionally move the series into a public forum and engage speakers from across the country,” says Trina Harrison, faculty engagement coordinator and member of the Indigenous Engagement Advisory Committee. 

With this decision made, planning began in summer 2021 for a six-part series for the coming year; however, creating free, public programming that was both meaningful and sustainable would require additional support. 

This support would come in the form of a financial and logistical partnership between the campus, the Chester Ronning Centre for the Study of Religion and Public Life, and the Jeanne & Peter Lougheed Performing Arts Centre. The series also received substantial financial support from one of Camrose’s local businesses, Cargill.

“Cargill is committed to equity, diversity and inclusivity within the community. Last spring it became increasingly apparent that the discussions on reconciliation and Indigenous issues need to be highlighted and discussed within our communities,” says chair of the Cargill Cares Committee for the Camrose Canola Crush Facility, Mira Rhynold. “We feel that the Indigenous Speaker Series offered by the University of Alberta Augustana Campus is geared toward creating that platform which fosters EDI within the Camrose community and are excited to partner with the school to keep these discussions in the forefront for the coming years.”

Now, just over a year after the first event, the series has grown significantly, with 2021-22 events including speakers, films, music and art performances. Additionally, the series has included both Indigenous and settler voices to address the importance of genuine allyship. Series events this year have focused on topics such as the mercantile fur trade, a creator panel on a web series about residential schools, music from an Indigenous perspective, and much more. The series has also continued to see some of the highest registration numbers for campus events, including registrants from North America, South America, Europe, Africa and Asia.

The 2021-22 series culminated in a special National Indigenous Peoples Day event featuring author and storyteller Richard Van Camp. A member of the Tłı̨chǫ Dene Nation and former writer in residence at the University of Alberta, Richard shared stories and teachings with an in-person audience of over 400 children and educators and an online audience of over 9,400! 

This marked the largest online audience Augustana has ever hosted, and one of the largest at the University of Alberta.

With the 2021-22 series now finished, planning is currently underway for 2022-23 — with the online component remaining. “As we move out of COVID-19 and into a new style of programming, the Indigenous Speaker Series will continue its current hybrid format for the 2022-23 season,” says Harrison. 

With partnerships and financial support from Cargill also continuing, Augustana is grateful it can provide further opportunities for those within and outside our community to listen, learn and engage in the act of reconciliation.