UNB’s new Heart to Heart group aims to foster a safe environment for educating students on Indigenous rights, histories, and ways of knowing in the hopes that better education can lead to reconciliation and a more equal society for everyone.


To foster this safe learning environment Arnab Taranga (Student Coordinator, International Student Advisor’s Office) and Shilin Tayah-Lee (Student Coordinator, Mi’kmaq-Wolastoqey Centre) spent several months researching the most modern thinking on Indigenous rights and reconciliation. Both Arnab and Shilin pointed out that up-to-date education is critical for creating a safe environment, as Arnab pointed out:


“[A term] could have been used all the time, but then the moment we read something and realize ‘okay it is very problematic to use,’ but it’s been used constantly … not just in an informal way but also legislation, makes it confusing.”


Both Arnab and Shilin said finding up-to-date resources and sifting through outdated language and ideas within those sources was one of their largest hurdles in establishing Heart to Heart. 


Luckily both Student Coordinators have support from the Mi’kmaq-Wolastoqey Centre at UNB. Shilin described a conversation they had with Indigenous Experiential Coordinator Kate Copage where she wanted:


“This program that the University of Saskatchewan has called Building Bridges, and she was talking about how she really wants this program to be UNB but it needs to be student-led.” 


Shilin then volunteered to take up the initiative. As part of their research, Shilin researched other Universities to see how similar initiatives are run but noticed that no schools other than UofS had a real initiative of any kind. So, UNB’s Heart to Heart program appears to be part of a cutting edge of student-led indigenous education. 


To facilitate the Heart to Heart initiative Shilin and the Mi’kmaq-Wolastoqey Centre teamed up with the International Students Advisor’s Office, conducting interviews to find a second Student Coordinator—eventually hiring Arnab.


Arnab and Shilin then laid the groundwork of the initiative for six months, as no real foundation was set and UNB for this type of group. Even UofS’s Building Bridges initiative took roughly eleven years


“We took that as a base, and we built up on that and tried to create something of our own and tailor-made for UNB itself,” said Aarnab.


In practical terms, Heart to Heart intends on hosting various educational events and activities including basket weaving, beading, medicine walks, movie nights, potlucks, and talking circles. Terminology courses may also be offered to better educate UNB students on the terms that are appropriate to use, and those that are not. 


Heart to Heart will begin offering these events and activities starting in the fall semester of 2023.


When asked where UNB may have blindspots in terms of Indigenous education and rights, Arnab pointed out that UNB still does not offer a major or minor in Indigenous studies, despite offering courses on the subject. 


“A lot of people, even if they wanted to, wouldn’t do those courses. They would be doing it for themselves and paying a huge amount of money for it … So that, to some extent, seems us like something that was designed systematically to keep people away from Indigenous knowledge,” said Arnab.


However, both Shilin and Arnab noted that large changes and wider education are happening at UNB and that the university is moving in an undoubtedly positive direction. 


Heart to Heart launches on March 21st with a movie night in room 143, Marshal D’avray Hall. All are welcome.

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