This year marks the 10th anniversary for the Indigenous Studies PhD program at Trent University. In honor of this milestone, the department hosted the Celebrating Indigenous Knowledges: Peoples, Lands, Cultures conference a few weeks ago on Trent’s campus in Peterborough, Ontario. The nearly 300 attendees included alumni, current students, and professors of the program along with scholars and community members from Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Hawai’i, and elsewhere in the Americas.
In her opening remarks the conference’s honorary chair, Professor Emeritus Marlene Brant Castellano, encapsulated the tone of the conference and the mission of the PhD program: “We are not teaching about Indigenous knowledge, rather we are reaffirming it as a foundation for contemporary knowledge. We aren’t preserving something from the past, but we are expressing that knowledge as a way of being good citizens in our communities and in the world. We are opening an Indigenous route to credentialing in the academy.” Many conference sessions spoke directly to this point, addressing ways to make Indigenous knowledge central to and viable in the Western academic model.
Song, performance, ceremony, and story were also common themes throughout this five-day conference, due in part to its coinciding with Peterborough’s annual Ode’min Giizis Indigenous arts festival. The festival featured performance art pieces by James Luna and Tanya Lukin-Linklater, masterful storytelling by Makka Kleist of Greenland, musical performances by cutting edge Aboriginal performers including Lucie Idlout and Tanya Tagaq, and the Compaigni V’ni Dansi’s portrayal of Métis resistance told through traditional and contemporary dance, among many other events. The influence of this creative atmosphere was evident in a number of sessions on song, dance, and literature, as well as occasional songs and performances being incorporated into the scholarly presentations.