The Mi’kmaq-Maliseet Institute of UNB will be busier than ever over the next few years as the new director, David Perley, takes action to promote First Nations culture and heritage.
“I’m honored to be occupying this position. I’ve been involved in the Mi’kmaq-Maliseet Institute for quite a few years in different capacities. I’ve always been impressed with what [the institute] is doing in terms of helping our students,” Perley said.
The Mi’kmaq-Maliseet Institute began taking form several years ago when aboriginal leaders asked UNB to set up programs and services to assist First Nations students in succeeding at a university level.
“They asked for programs that would assist our Maliseet and Mi’kmaq students to be accepted at university level and to succeed and graduate from different faculties. The institute is designed to assist Mi’kmaq and Maliseet students to be successful,” Perley said.
Perley has several initiatives in mind when it comes to spreading aboriginal culture throughout campus. These include the building of a sweat lodge, a Wabanaki longhouse and more course offerings focusing on aboriginal culture and language.
“My vision is that within UNB grounds we’ll see Mi’kmaq and Maliseet world views, histories, languages, traditions and teachings be reinforced. I’d like to see more courses with Mi’kmaq and Maliseet content and their languages promoted,” he said.
Another concern of Perley is the lack of education when it comes to the rights of First Nations peoples.
“My ancestors signed Friendship Treaties back in the 1700s. In Nova Scotia they celebrate Peace and Friendship Treaty Day on Oct. 4 of every year. This is a province-wide initiative. I’d like to see a university-wide initiative where we would have our own Treaty Recognition Day where students and faculty become aware of our treaty rights,” Perley said.
Perley believes building a sweat lodge on campus grounds will help students connect with their spiritual side and meet their spiritual needs.
“We’re working on having a sweat lodge next to Marshall d’Avray Hall. We need to address the social, the intellectual, the physical and the spiritual needs of our students. In our culture everything our ancestors did had a spiritual aspect to it,” Perley said.
An initiative for the construction of a Wabanaki Longhouse is also underway. At the longhouse, students will be able to gather and speak with elders and leaders of the First Nations community.
While Perley’s focus is on aboriginal culture, he encourages non-First Nations students to make the choice to learn about native history, traditions, language and teachings.
“The Mi’kmaq-Maliseet Institute isn’t just for Mi’kmaq and Maliseet students. We want to make sure that when we develop and implement these initiatives we include both native and non-native students,” Perley said.
“For me it’s important for all students that by the time they graduate from UNB they know something about Mi’kmaq and Maliseet histories.”
Kastina Inman, the UNBSU’s aboriginal representative, believes that it’s the responsibility of the youth of a First Nations community to maintain native culture.
“I feel like there’s not a lot of youth that’s focused on our culture. I aim to get resources for aboriginal students for them to be able to see opportunities that are open to them such as scholarships,” Inman said.
Inman has many plans and ideas for UNB and is working with the Mi’kmaq-Maliseet Institute to see them through.
“I want to do up a master calendar of powwows, gatherings, classes, etc. that are not just for aboriginal students. I think it’s important that non-aboriginal students learn [about the culture] as well,” she said.
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