What should have been a celebration of Indigenous culture at the Haudenoshaunee Social was marred by the discovery of the east bank tipi’s desecration.
On November 18, members of the First People’s House of Learning (FPHL) and the Trent University Native Association (TUNA) discovered that this sacred space had been used as a venue for drinking and drug use.
There was evidence of vandalism and forced entry into the tipi, with various bits of garbage cast around the area and a table broken inside as well.
The tipi is intended to provide a learning space for Indigenous and non-Indigenous students.
On Tuesdays and Thursdays the tipi hosts social fires (10am – 4pm) that are open to Indigenous and non-Indigenous students where they can engage in open conversations.
It is a space for students to learn about local Indigenous culture outside of a classroom as well as for Indigenous individuals to practice their culture in a safe space. For instance, Indigenous women hold traditional Full Moon ceremonies as a means of releasing the pressure of carrying the burdens of their family and friends.
Edward George, Co-President of TUNA, said, “[The tipi] is there for students who don’t know about their culture to learn more and it is especially there for non-native students who are in Indigenous studies or are interested in learning more, it’s a space for them as well.”
Disrespect for this space goes further than the vandalism of university property, but it extends to the disrespect of individuals who use the space.
“The tipi has organically become this place in the community for students to talk about really difficult things when there might not be other spaces at the university for that,” said George.
“This happens organically, it can’t be choreographed or created. You can provide the space, but what happens in the space is completely up to those individuals. The individual is able to reconcile these deeper issues in this space. For the tipi to be disgraced in such a way is really hurtful to those students and to myself as well.”
This is the third time that such a desecration has happened this year and has been regular problem in previous years. George further sees this as an extension of racial tensions at Trent.
In many ways, the Indigenous studies department is downplayed at the university and only highlighted for its commercial value in terms of using images of Indigenous performances for promotional material (look no further than the 50th Anniversary celebration video for examples).
Structural issues that minimize the importance of a pillar of the university combined with ignorance of many students makes the university a problematic and contested zone for racial tension between Indigenous and settler societies.
For this reason, the tipi and FPHL are important institutions for having discussions of these issues, fighting colonialism, and educating those belonging to settler societies about Indigenous culture.
Following these incidents TUNA has reached out to head of Gzowski College, Lindy Garneau, and director of colleges, Barry Townshend, for support in the resolution of this issue.
On Tuesday December 2, they will be meeting to devise a plan for informing residence dons and educating students living on-campus.
There have been discussions about techniques for preventing such events in the future.
George said, “One of the things that people want is security cameras, as well as there have been discussions about locking up the tipi so that no one can get it. But, a lot of people see this as further disrespect to the space, because it is supposed to be safe and sacred. It goes against our own ways as it is.”
He added, “We’re at a university, and people should know. It’s really upsetting that people such as myself in my role that I have to keep reminding and educating people who are already highly educated.”
When the university provides opportunities for learning about Indigenous cultures, there is absolutely no excuse for such a desecration. It is sad to hear that some of the student body seems to have regressed so far into ignorance.