Indigenous students hosted a gathering on campus last week to break down colonial constructs and make Indigenous peoples visible in the community.

The annual Indigenous Day event in Convocation Mall featured performances by student and visiting artists on the unceded territories of the Tsleil-Waututh, Squamish, Musqueam, and Kwikwetlem nations.

“It gives us room to make space for ourselves,” said Maddi,* an event organizer with the First Nations Student Association. “This just allows us to take up the whole space that we deserve to have and give Indigenous people an outlet.”

This is the fourth time that the event — which is the largest hosted by the association each year — has been held. It also provides a chance for other Indigenous students to connect with their community on campus.

“I feel like that is really essential to Indigenous students in educational settings, for them to succeed here, it is really important to have their community,” said Matthew Provost, who is also an event organizer with the First Nations Student Association. “They may feel empowered, they may feel connected in some way that lacks in other parts of their student lives.”

“It gives us room to make space for ourselves.” – Maddi, First Nations Student Association

This year’s theme ‘burn the borders’ was reflected in the words of Indigenous performers who sought to address colonial structures and present an important message through a diversity of Indigenous stories.

“We are from different nations and have different aspects to what makes us Indigenous. This is to celebrate our differences as Indigenous people and to have it recognized who we are and where we come from,” Maddi explained.

The theme denotes overcoming colonial barriers and bringing the wider community together for the event. A number of student spoken-word artists as well as visiting drummers and dancers performed throughout the day and local Indigenous hip-hop artist Jerilynn Webster, known by her stage name JB the First Lady, moderated the event.

“This year, our headlining acts [are] all Indigenous women who are very, very active in the community here,” Provost added. “You don’t really see that any more — Indigenous women being able to be those voices.”

“We’re trying to break down those barriers as well, especially in Indigenous communities.”

“We have a really big community of Indigenous students here and we want to embrace [that] all Indigenous people are different.” – Matthew Provost, First Nations Student Association

The event is meant as a relationship-building platform for non-Indigenous students and faculty to meet the Indigenous community on campus, noted Provost.

“I feel like there is a huge lacking [in] the knowledge, the accountability, and the realization of where this campus sits, on unceded territory,” Maddi said. “We are here, we are present, we are getting educated, we are part of this community, and that is why it is so important to learn and interact with us.”

The presence of Indigenous students on campus is not recognized often enough, according to Maddi. “We’re not included in a lot of different activities, especially when there is Indigenous content, they won’t come to us,” she continued. “We are often left out.”

The spoken word performances by Indigenous students asserted many of these sentiments.

“All of the emotional labour from the performers . . . it is inspiring,” Maddi commented. “It reminds me why we do these things.”

*Full name was not published at the request of the interviewee.