Program signals new era for N.S. aboriginals: elder
The coordinator of a program at Halifax's Dalhousie University that connects aboriginal elders with students says the initiative signals a new era of inclusivity for indigenous people in the region.
Geri Musqua-LeBlanc, head of the university's Elders in Residence program, said the elders support students by providing counselling and traditional cultural rituals such as smudging, a purification ceremony that involves burning herbs like sage and sweet grass.
“We're there to support the students and encourage them, as their grandmothers and grandfathers would,” said Musqua-LeBlanc, who is originally from the Nakawe nation in Saskatchewan. “A lot of them are away from home and they miss home. They miss their ceremonies, so we're there to provide that for them.
“My personal belief is that I have a sacred responsibility to pass down traditional indigenous knowledge to the younger generation.”
Musqua-LeBlanc said aboriginal people have long endured institutional racism in the province. However the public is beginning to understand and accept the historical atrocities committed against aboriginal people in Canada, such as the residential schools where many endured physical and sexual abuse, she said.
Earlier this year, Dalhousie reached out to the nearby Mi'kmaq Native Friendship Centre about establishing a program that connects aboriginal elders with students at the school, said Musqua-LeBlanc. She said the elders were then given free rein in developing the program and its mandate.
The program launched last month and there are five elders involved.