Students from other communities who have chosen to pursue their education in Fort Smith may find a second home in the Culture Room at Aurora College’s Thebacha campus.
Started last September, the culture room functions as a place for sharing traditional knowledge and a comfortable lounge where students can do homework or take a break and know they belong.
“It’s a pivotal place for students and families to gather while they are away from home and pursuing eduction,” said the culture room coordinator, Sharon Allen. “They want to feel like they’re at home so we try to make it like a second home.”
In the past, the culture room – run by student volunteers – has organized feasts and potlucks, free weekly bannock for the student body, Aboriginal language instruction and workshops on traditional skills, such as beading and mitt-making.
As well, the room’s theme rotates on a monthly basis, showcasing the culture, people and places of each of the territory’s five regions – Inuvik, Sahtu, Dehcho, North Slave and South Slave – an initiative started by Chipewyan elder Jane Dragon.
Allen said programming for the centre is very organic, evolving with the interest and involvement of the people who use it. She said having that kind of freedom of expression is very important.
“It’s like being an artist,” she said. “Because this is our identity; this is who we are. We’ve been oppressed so long and trying to crawl up and out of things like residential schools and overcome all these challenges. So it’s important to acknowledge who we are and how we can promote culture and language.”
She said many students have never made mitts from hide or learned to speak their indigenous language, so the culture room is a space they can come to relearn those important skills.
“This is a place where students can identify themselves, because you know with modernization it’s hard for them to keep who they are,” she said. “Here they can do smudging or relearn a skill, or refresh their skills. Moose hair tufting and beading – those are skills, they are things that we need to express who we are.”
The culture room also tries to branch out into the community. Last year they met with the seniors’ society and are hoping to continue to have that connection.
“We’re trying to network with the community to work together, to have a place where students can meet other people,” said Allen. “That way we can create a wide support system, because it’s hard when you come here for the first time alone and you don’t know anybody. We want to feel at home when we go away to pursue education, that’s important to us. It’s what determines if we succeed or not.”