The Inspiring Community grant supports UBC, UNA and Musqueam community members with up to $500 in funding to create experiences that enrich the UBC Vancouver campus. In Fall 2021, one of the ten grant recipients was Kristy Pittman, an Indigenous community member from Yurok and St'át'imc nations currently residing in Acadia Park. Having passionately advocated groups in British Columbia about powwow dancing and cultural survival in the past, Kristy saw an opportunity to facilitate cultural knowledge exchange with her neighbours, and proposed a project to host an event, “Sharing Indigenous Teachings through Song and Dance by Laura Grizzlypaws.”
The event created a space to celebrate diversity and share Indigenous knowledge with over forty residents living at Acadia Park through a bear dance and creation story performance led by Laura Grizzlypaws – a singer, songwriter, dancer, drummer, academic, educator, and language and cultural advocate. Laura is of St’át’imc descent and was born and raised in the Interior Plateau of Lillooet, BC. A woman of many talents, Laura is an Indigenous Music Award winner, holds four degrees, and advocates for cultural survival through her speaking engagements and artistic performances.
After her performance, Laura kindly answered our questions about how performances like hers enrich the lives of community members and spark ideas for the future:
Ashley, UTown@UBC: Why do you believe your performance today is impactful on this community?
Laura: This performance that I shared was about the significance of establishing foundational principles of Indigenous knowledge so that we can recognize [its] significance and connect it to creation stories, health and well-being, sustainability, and the economy. Whether that’s the local economy of Indigenous peoples; the regional, municipal, provincial, or national economy… Indigenous knowledge can be positively impactful globally. When we think about Indigenous knowledge, Indigenous knowledge is not just about deconstructing colonialism; it's about indigenizing and creating new perspectives and ways of understanding the significance and contributions of indigenous knowledge. The presentation today was just a small fraction of that significance. The Grizzly bears’ way of life – and its customs, principles and values – can be applied to all people and exemplify living in harmony, living with balance, living with values, living with purpose, living with intention, and how that impacts families past, present, and future.
Ashley: Being an incredibly diverse and multicultural campus, performances like yours today are a really valuable opportunity for non-Indigenous community members to learn about your traditions and cultural practices. What do you believe that practicing effective allyship looks like for non-Indigenous folks, especially those working, learning and living on the traditional, ancestral and unceded territory?
Laura: Allies are a crucial part of educating, informal and formally. I believe that we have to start the part of deconstructing colonialism that is about restructuring a new way of doing things, and it doesn't matter what race, what ethnic origin, what culture, what belief system a person has – we're all people of the land. We need to be able to learn how to work together, communicate, be open and aware and create awareness and understanding of the diverse cultural values and beliefs and protocols of all. We need to be able to work with our non-Indigenous counterparts as a way of creating new opportunities and possibilities; of closing that gap between non-Indigenous and Indigenous or any other cultural group. I think that it's really important to be able to engage and establish relationships to indigenize, and we need non-Indigenous people to be able to get into areas that we haven't been able to succeed in until now.
Ashley: What else would you hope to see happening within the UBC community, short term or long term, to support cultural survival both on and off-campus?
Laura: I envision it becoming more visual - Indigenization to me is about making language and Indigenous cultural values more visible, through place names, structures of buildings, murals, art, pathways. Cultural competency could be implemented in more areas, whether that's housing, programs, structural buildings, the mapping place names of communities. The names are reflective of the culture of the Musqueam people because UBC is on Musqueam traditional lands, but so many Indigenous peoples come here to study to live and to build their educational competency. These individuals should be able to embrace who they are in their identities without abandoning or neglecting their traditional practices and roles, so indigenization should become more visible on campus. Indigenous knowledge is so full of the artistic expression of who we are because we're oral – we’re artists, how we communicate and relate is told from our stories in our dances, song, art, and artistic expressions. That's the most powerful way of educating because it's captivating and soulful! The people that came today to witness this word can take it with them, and they’ll have a little bit more understanding of what Indigenous knowledge is and how it impacts so many other areas.
Thank you to Kristy Pittman for organizing this grant project, and to Laura Grizzlypaws for sharing your time and talent with the community.
Have a great idea for a project that grows a sense of togetherness in the community through cultural, knowledge or skill exchange? Funding is still available until December 1, 2021. Apply today for an Inspiring Community Grant!
By: Ashley Hu, Community Programmer