March 29, 2023

By Ahmad Khan – Spoke News

Every fall, Conestoga’s Aboriginal Student Services office raises a teepee on the Doon campus. The main intent of erecting the teepee is the “cultural preservation of Indigenous traditions,” according to Christina Restoule, manager of Aboriginal Student Services. Restoule insists that these visible representations of cultural markers is extremely important.

Community elder Lois MacDonald (left) discusses the raising of the teepee with Christina Restoule, manager of Aboriginal Student Services. Photo by Ahmad Khan

Restoule continued by saying that a substantial amount of the Indigenous cultural practices have been eroded; that a large number of Indigenous youth of today have “not been raised in Indigenous cultural traditions” and, as a result, are not steeped in the rich history of their people.

The raising of the teepee helps students identify and relate to a community to which they’d previously felt no connection. The significance of the event last week could be seen in the fact that Lois MacDonald a community elder and member of the elder-in-residence program at Conestoga, was also present to help and guide the raising of the teepee. The teepee was also being raised with the intent of allowing the non-Indigenous student population of the college to become familiar with the culture of Indigenous Canadians.

Students from different walks of life who study on campus offered opinions on what they thought about the raising of the teepee and its significance. Some admitted that they did not know that such an activity happened at the college, while others were excited.

Kirsten Walls (left), Claire Mercer, Sarah Vidler and Kathleen Hastings, all second-year students of the recreation and leisure services program, giving their opinion about the raising of the teepee. Photo by Ahmad Khan

Second-year student Kirsten Walls said she is grateful that the Indigenous people are letting settlers use their land. Claire Mercer was of the opinion that the teepee should be raised at every public institution, not just Conestoga. Sarah Vidler said she loves “how Conestoga embraces diversity and celebrates different cultures.” Kathleen Hastings said the teepee raising process shows that the college community is recognizing and supporting Indigenous culture.

Chailey Nelson, a first-year social services student, said we have so much to learn from Indigenous cultures. Photo by Ahmad Khan

Chailey Nelson, a first-year student in social services, said that although he was not aware about the raising of the teepee, he thought it was a marvellous idea. “The art work and belief system fascinates me and we have so much to learn form them,” Nelson said of the Indigenous community at Conestoga.

Indigenous student Andre Nault, in his first year in the fast-track biotechnology technician program, said he was excited about raising the teepee. He added that this was only the second time he had participated in the custom, as life in an urban area had deprived him of the opportunity.

André Nault, an Indigenous student in the first year of the biotechnology technician fast-track program, said he was excited about the event. Photo by Ahmad Khan

The teepee has 13 poles; each has a significant meaning. It can take two people more than two hours to set one up.  The poles being used are more than seven years old and were brought in from Alberta. The reason for bringing the poles in from the West was that there they were made in a tradition style. The teepee was meant for survival and a place where people would live while following the migration patterns of animals that were food sources. Presently, the teepee is only being erected at Conestoga’s Doon campus; however, it is hoped that in the future such teepee raising ceremonies will also be held at other campuses.

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