Indigenous Inclusion on Campus: Meet Cory, SAMRU’s Cultural and Indigenous Inclusion Programmer

With this month being National Indigenous History Month, and National Indigenous Peoples Day landing on June 21st, we sat down with SAMRU’s Cultural and Indigenous Inclusion Programmer, Cory Cardinal, to learn more about the history of the Cultural Inclusion Centre (room Z203 in Wyckham House), the importance of having cultural and Indigenous spaces on campus, Indigenization at MRU, and more.

Read until the end for Cory’s media recommendations that represent and tell the story of Indigenous Peoples, and a few events happening around the city this week!

Can you tell us a bit about yourself and the Cultural Inclusion Centre?

My name is Cory Cardinal, I’m Plains Cree and Tsuut’ina, and I grew up on Tsuut’ina on a little ranch— now it’s a freeway. I was a student here at Mount Royal in the 90s, and I got involved with the Indigenous Student Club. When the club was formed, we asked the students to write on Post-It notes the top three things they wanted to accomplish as a club. The main thing they wanted was to develop an Indigenous student centre, so as a club, we worked on things like developing the Powwow and the Native Centre.

I’ve been working here for 20 years this year. I really enjoy what I do and it changes every year; it’s just fun. The students are a big part of that because they’re all here to learn, so they come with an open mind and we have lots of interesting conversations.

What is the importance of having cultural and Indigenous spaces on campus?

Well, in my experience, when we were a student club, there were a lot of issues that Indigenous students dealt with that weren’t being met by regular services. Homesickness is a big problem that Indigenous students deal with, so we made it a goal to find community events for them to attend and organizations they could be a part of because they were so far away from home. Finding housing for Indigenous students was also an issue due to prejudice and bias in the community and a lack of landlord references (after living on the reserve their whole life). 

The centre was able to address many of these issues. We had peer-to-peer tutoring, counselling, and other programs to support students. We created our own Indigenous housing list with alumni to connect students with somewhere to live. The students created their own babysitting circles, so if you had to go do an exam or go to class, you could drop the baby off with a friend and they could do the same with you. We also wrote a book called Red Words which was a compilation of students’ writing, photos, and artwork. All of these things helped retain Indigenous students and create a community that they might not have otherwise found at MRU. 

So now, the point of the Cultural Inclusion Centre is to give students a place to express themselves in various ways and to help them have a better sense of community and quality of life. The Cultural Inclusion Centre is kind of a hangout room; students can come here and take their minds off of school and work if they need to. Our programming and events allow students to enjoy and express themselves through their culture, art, and words. We have students that like to have big discussions and we’re able to flesh those ideas out and create these moments that students are a part of and are proud of. We meet students who are from a variety of backgrounds –  it’s a place that is open to everybody and everyone is welcome at the Cultural Inclusion Centre. 

I’ve heard from dozens of students that they’ve come here at some point in their life to one of our community events and that’s when they decided they wanted to come to Mount Royal University; because they felt accepted here. And that’s what we’re trying to do with our programs, events, and services: to give the students as much chance to express themselves and bridge those gaps.

How are Indigenous ways of learning incorporated into the Cultural Inclusion Centre’s programs and events?

I think in the last few years, everybody on campus has been doing their best to promote and develop Indigenization through programs, speakers, and different things. It’s a whole-campus effort, so that’s what I enjoy. We’re also doing it through the Cultural Inclusion Centre, and with our Indigenous programs, which are open to everybody. For example, our Tea and Bannock Talking Circle is meant to create a safe place where all students can come to discuss, and the discussions change constantly.

We have our Indigenous Crafting program, where anyone can come to learn Indigenous crafts. It’s led by a student volunteer, so the students who come to that learn how to make crafts that are meaningful to our volunteer, and they learn about Indigenous culture and history. 

We also have our annual Round Dance. Round Dances evolved from the reserve system and used to be called “Tea Dances”. On the reserve system, you couldn’t leave without a pass, so you couldn’t visit other communities. What people would do then was take all the furniture out of one of the residential houses and sing, dance, and drink tea all night. When the reserve system relaxed in the 70s and 80s, those dances spread out to other communities, and now they’ve spread out from Northern Alberta and Saskatchewan to Ontario, British Columbia, and all over the northern States, so this is kind of a new culture that came from an old culture.

What does Indigenization mean to you?

Indigenization to me means a better understanding of the Indigenous experience, and our country as a whole. We’re all Canadian, and all of us formed Canada. When it comes to understanding the Indigenous experience, for me, it’s about creating equity. There are a ton of barriers that most Indigenous students still face.

A lot of Indigenous students have to do upgrading programs at MRU because the level of education on reserves doesn’t qualify them for post-secondary education. Funding is another barrier. The whole point is to reduce these barriers for our Indigenous population and make it fairer to find that equity. 

In my years of sitting on boards and committees, first as a student and then working here with the Students’ Association, I’ve seen years and years of people trying on their own, and now I see everyone coming together within the Mount Royal community to Indigenize as a group and help people find more of that support. 

What can non-Indigenous students do to work toward reconciliation?

The biggest thing I can think of is taking part in local Indigenous community events. There’s the Aboriginal Friendship Centre in Calgary — every city has a friendship centre — and they have events and programs for Indigenous people, but also invite non-Indigenous people to events to create awareness and understanding. 

See what resources and information are available on campus— just get involved and learn. I think the problem right now is ignorance. The only way to combat your own ignorance is to be willing to educate yourself. It’s important to have those conversations and to ask questions. The Cultural Inclusion Centre is a safe space, and if students ever have questions or want to learn more about something, my door is always open. If I don’t know the answer, because I don’t know everything, I can connect them with someone who might know. 

Get in touch with Cory:
Cultural Inclusion Centre (Room Z203)

Media Recommendations from Cory

Little Bird

Bezhig Little Bird was adopted into a Jewish family at the age of five, being stripped of her identity and becoming Esther Rosenblum. Now in her 20s, Bezhig longs for the family she lost and to fill in the missing pieces. Her quest lands her in the Canadian Prairies where she discovers that she was one of the generation of children forcibly apprehended by the Canadian government through a policy, later coined the 60s Scoop.

Bones of Crows (in theatres)

Cree code talker Aline Spears survives her traumatic past in Canada’s residential school system to continue her family’s generational fight against systemic starvation, racism, and sexual abuse.

Events in Calgary

OHSOTO’KINO: Indigenous Peoples Day at Studio Bell
Wednesday, June 21st | 1:00 pm – 2:00 pm | Studio Bell

As part of the OHSOTO’KINO initiative, join the National Music Centre and Aboriginal Awareness Week Calgary for a special event showcasing local Indigenous song, music, and dance. The day’s lineup includes champion hoop dancer Quentin Pipestem, Powwow singers and drum group Eya-Hey Nakoda, and singer-songwriter Cynthia Hamar.
The National Music Centre’s newly updated Speak Up! exhibition also launches on June 21, giving the public an opportunity to learn about Indigenous culture and experiences through the lens of music. Speak Up! recognizes trailblazing Indigenous voices in music, including recently added artists Tom Jackson, Elisapie, Ferron, Fawn Wood, and Drezus. Featuring storytelling, audio, and artifacts, visitors to Speak Up! can learn how Indigenous artists are fostering dialogue and understanding to radically shift the Canadian paradigm of who First Nation, Métis, and Inuit people are.

Admission to Studio Bell is free for everyone courtesy of Stantec on June 21st, National Indigenous Peoples Day.

Campfire Chats: A Celebration of Indigenous Music
Wednesday, June 21st | 4:00 pm – 6:00 pm | Heritage Park Plaza

Indigenous peoples across Canada have a culturally rich, diverse, and immersive history of both traditional and contemporary music. In honour of National Indigenous Peoples Day on June 21, the University of Calgary invites you to the 8th annual Campfire Chats: A Celebration of Indigenous Music.
Join us and Heritage Park in a celebration of Indigenous culture through live music and performances. Performers include:

  • Craig Ginn, Métis recording artist and UCalgary professor
  • Olivia Tail Feathers, traditional singer/songwriter from the Blood Tribe/Kainai Nation
  • Sandra Sutter, Cree Métis recording artist
  • Rod Hunter and his drum group Eya-Hey Nakoda from Stoney Nakoda Nation

Admission is free.

National Indigenous Family Day and Powwow
Saturday, June 24th | 9:00 am – 6:00 pm | Enmax Park (Calgary Stampede Grounds)

Attend the National Indigenous Family Day and Powwow at Enmax Park, where there will be an Indigenous arts and crafts market, exhibitions of Inuit and Metis, a talent showcase, and more.

Admission is free.

Stardale Women’s Group: Screening of Shadow in Time and Discussion
Saturday, June 24th | 1:00 pm – 3:00 pm | Calgary Public Library- Central Library

This event is an opportunity for learning and community as we share a look into the real world of the young Indigenous girls of the Stardale Women’s Group. The event will feature a screening of their original film, Shadows in Time, a conversation with Stardale, words from their Elder, and a performance by the Stardale Girls Drumming Group.

Admission is free.