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Building a deeper understanding of truth and reconciliation in Hamilton

Musical Sharing: An Indigenous Artists and Mohawk College Student Cultural Engagement and Exchange Initiative is bringing a college ensemble and Indigenous artists together to share the stage and perform as an act of reconciliation guided by the Indigenous community.

members of the six nations women singers group
The Six Nations Women Singers will be mentoring the music students.

The initiative aims to end the trauma narrative and replace it with a cultural strength narrative, by way of an unconditioned shared space for hospitality.

Ensemble guitarist Calvin Mulder says the unpredictability of the music is the best part.

“It’s a very diverse group and we’re all sort of coming together,” Mulder said. “Preparation is just going to be playing and sort of coming up with some foundations, which is one of the things that’s important in this ensemble and the initiative. There’s a perfect element of improvising.”

The initiative was conceived by Bob Shields, a professor at Mohawk College. Shields was doing personal research when he realized the connection between unconditioned spaces and social support, as well as elevating marginalized voices and extinguish the fear of “the other”.

“Why couldn’t I create an unconditional space for music students, and Indigenous artists to come together as underrepresented voices?” Shields recalled. “What if we let the music do the speaking, and just sit back and not prescribe things, and let things emerge through this cultural engagement exchange naturally, and learn from it?”

There are many ways to express acts of reconciliation, music being one of them. But self-educating on Indigenous culture and local resources is just as important.

Alex Jacobs-Blum is Lower Cayuga of Six Nations of the Grand River and Wolf Clan and was born and raised in Hamilton. Jacobs-Blum is a photo- and video-based artist and curator who started her work as a board member with De dwa da dehs nye>s Aboriginal Health Centre in October 2020.

Jacobs-Blum portrait standing in front of trees.
Alex Jacobs-Blum photographs her journey exploring her Indigenous Identity and her community. (Marc LeSage)

“For the past 20 years the [Aboriginal Health Centre] has been successfully providing culturally safe programs and services that are relationship-based,” Jacobs-Blum said. “They’re welcoming, they’re client-directed and they’re actually one of ten Aboriginal health access centers in Ontario.”

The centre offers a full range of programs and services like primary care, mental health and addiction services, cultural wellness and outreach, and healthy living programs. It also has COVID-19 vaccine support and mobile service for primary care.

But where should the Hamilton community look to learn about truth and reconciliation? Jacobs-Blum says the best way to start is getting to know the ancestral lands where you live.

“I think it’s very, very important to build a deeper understanding of Indigenous history and specifically the history of the peoples of the land where you’re situated. It requires that research and just in terms of reconciliation,” Jacobs-Blum said. “It’s a lifelong journey and it’s something that can’t be rushed or shoehorned into once a year. Mistakes are going to be made engaging in reconciliation and that’s okay.”

Acknowledging that reconciliation won’t be perfect and continuing the journey regardless is one way to show Indigenous people that the Hamilton community is committed to reconciliation.

To learn more about ways to support the Indigenous community as well as truth and reconciliation, visit the Aboriginal Health Centre website https://aboriginalhealthcentre.com/ .

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