Home News Field course boasts best of Kanesatake

Field course boasts best of Kanesatake

Marcus Bankuti The Eastern Door

On a week that thrust Kanesatake’s troubles into countrywide headlines, Wanda Gabriel guided a cohort of McGill University students through the aspects of the community that are a source of pride.

“The times that we are in in Kanesatake right now, it’s been for me, as a community member, it’s been refreshing to hear in that vein how people are so committed and passionate about the work they’re doing in our community,” said Gabriel, an adjunct professor at the university who co-teaches the multidisciplinary field course that involved a five-night stay in the community from May 14-19.

Other professors were also present, including the co-founder of the course, Nicole Ives, an associate professor in the social work department.

The 19 students who participated were introduced to a range of community voices, including lacrosse-stick maker Travis Gabriel, Kanesatake Health Center (KHC) executive director Teiawenhniseráhte Tomlinson, Mohawk Council of Kanesatake (MCK) grand chief Victor Bonspille, and Harvey Satewas Gabriel.

They also met with youth leaders Anientha Simon and Kailey Karahkwinéhtha Nicholas.

“It was just an inspiration to hear the youth speak about youth reality in Kanesatake – the youth hopes, the youth desires. So inspirational,” she said.

“I definitely feel pride in showcasing and uplifting the people who are working hard in our community to create the best community we can have.”

While encouraging students to better understand Onkwehón:we communities is important in general, the field course targets future professional service workers who may work with Indigenous people. Social work, law, anthropology, education, and medicine are the main disciplines involved.

“I think it’s important for cultural awareness and cultural safety. Those disciplines work directly with our community most of the time. Bringing them that cultural safety approach and knowledge of our communities in a lived experience is different than reading about it,” said Wanda, who is also executive director of the Indigenous Certification Board of Canada.

“Heart learning is a lot more powerful, and it’s a lot more in our ways of learning to bring your whole being, to stimulate all the senses in learning, not just the mind.”

Most of the students in the course were not Indigenous, but a handful were Onkwehón:we, including a Kanehsata’kehró:non who lives off-territory.

“To actually be able to sit down and have a whole week here, where all I’m doing is hearing from knowledge keepers, it’s a really invaluable experience for me,” said Dallas Karonhianoron Canady-Binette, who is finishing up a bachelor’s degree in anthropology at McGill.

“I feel rejuvenated in a way. Whenever I’m engaged with the culture and the politics of Kanesatake, I feel impassioned. I feel cleansed.”

Given the varying levels of awareness around decolonization amongst non-Indigenous students, Canady-Binette was unsure what to expect. However, he said he feels he made some longtime friends during his stay.

“Most of the time when Kanesatake is in the mainstream news, it’s always negative events,” said Canady-Binette. “It’s actually been very nice that everyone has been really open to seeing a different side of the community and open to listening to the people that have come and given talks about a bunch of different topics, politics, culture.”

“It feels nice to feel like we’re staying here. We really are guests in the community, so it kind of reframes it,” said Sage Duquette, a first-year law student who is Metis from Red River, who noted the value of the experience considering the extent to which the justice system is a colonial institution.

“That’s not going to change overnight because you have a couple Indigenous students and one additional class, but it’s a start,” Duquette added.

Tuyaa Montgomery, a PhD student in anthropology, was drawn to the course in part because she too is Indigenous, although not from Turtle Island – her mother is Buryat from Siberia, she said.

“I wanted to take this course to learn more about how work with Indigenous communities is being done in Turtle Island,” said Montgomery, whose PhD project relates to addiction and harm reduction in relation to reconciliation.

She said Wanda’s guidance was a major asset to the course.

“Words fail me because Wanda is just incredible,” said Montgomery. “When she walks into the room the energy shifts because of the knowledge she carries, but also the care with which she carries that knowledge and her experiences.”

While the students stayed in Kanesatake for just shy of a week, the four-week intensive course prepares the students with in-class education.

Marcus Bankuti, Local Journalism Initiative reporter

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Marcus is a journalist and managing editor of The Eastern Door, where he has been reporting since 2021 on issues that matter to Kahnawake and Kanesatake. He was previously editor-in-chief of The Link and a contributing editor at Our Canada magazine.

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Marcus is a journalist and managing editor of The Eastern Door, where he has been reporting since 2021 on issues that matter to Kahnawake and Kanesatake. He was previously editor-in-chief of The Link and a contributing editor at Our Canada magazine.