MacEwan University hosted the 26th annual Dreamcatcher Aboriginal Youth Conference Oct. 12 to 13, 2018. The Dreamcatcher Conference is an event aimed at providing Indigenous youth across Canada the opportunity to explore educational and career opportunities, while also celebrating Indigenous cultures.
The conference is hosted by MacEwan every fall and is open to all Indigenous-Canadians with a focus on high school students. The speakers and workshop facilitators worked to display the educational options for the attending youth, but the beauty and heart displayed in the cultural teachings stole the show and emphasized the necessity for not only keeping Indigenous culture alive but also in allowing it to thrive once again.
The conference opened on Friday, Oct. 12 with a campus tour of the University as well as a traditional pipe ceremony and a cultural round dance. Saturday began with cultural prayers and speeches from representatives from the Indigenous community and MacEwan.
Each of these speakers reflected on the dichotomy between the importance of education and of building a connection with the roots of Indigenous peoples’ cultures. However, once the keynote speaker delivered his speech, it became clear that the contrary nature between education and cultural awareness needs more of an overlap.
The keynote speaker, Dr. James Makokis, is a family doctor and public speaker from Saddle Lake Cree Nation. Makokis inspired the audience and spoke with power and enthusiasm. Throughout his speech he shared numerous personal stories about his journey to becoming a doctor as well as reconnecting with his culture.
When speaking on the challenge of making change in his community, Dr. Makokis said not to “let anyone tell you that you are not important .…You have the power to affect change in your community.”
The point that Makokis makes is not exclusive to the Indigenous community, but it is something that has not been strongly reinforced in Indigenous people due to centuries of cultural suppression. This makes the power of Makokis’ message much more potent.
When speaking on the struggles of Indigenous people over the years, Makokis reflected on their strength as a people by saying, “We’re still here. Despite everything that’s happened to us, we’re still here.”
Keestin O’Dell, master of ceremonies for the conference and MacEwan alumnus, spoke on the strength of Indigenous culture and the necessity to remind the youth of that culture. O’Dell said that, “Identity is a sacred right and through generations people have been trying to steal that identity away from us … so it’s important to remind the younger generations of where they come from.”
The suppression of Indigenous culture is a dark chapter of Canadian and American history; however, this suppression is not as far in the past as many believe. The last residential school in Canada closed only 22 years ago in 1996, and many Indigenous people across the country continue to feel the strong effects of colonialism.
Because the ancestors of many Canadians played a role in this cultural suppression, it is not just the responsibility of the Indigenous community to revive their culture, but also the responsibility of society to aid in repairing the damage that was inflicted upon Indigenous people. O’Dell noted that MacEwan is taking the right steps on this front by having numerous visible treaty six acknowledgement markers around campus, as well as having symbols such as the Métis flag raised.
The Dreamcatcher Conference provides Indigenous youth many opportunities to see the possibilities of success in both their educational and cultural lives. Makokis and O’Dell are active advocates for Indigenous people, and their words inspired many of the attendees to work towards positive change in their communities.
Cover photo via Macewan.ca