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On Friday March, 17 five St. Mary’s University students celebrated the completion of Igniting the Fire: Storying the Urban Warrior course, a non-credit University course that focused on Indigenous literacies through engagement with the arts.

Modelled after St. Mary’s landmark Humanities 101 program, the participants in the Igniting the Fire celebration of learning were all Indigenous learners who had experienced barriers to learning. The course was provided free-of-charge, meals were served in every class and mentors were on hand for the students.

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The course highlighted the interplay between culture and identity within an Indigenous perspective and cultural ways of knowing while exploring the value of both oral and written traditions through contemporary and historical examples of Indigenous art, cultural protocols and ceremony, creative writing and storytelling.

The major project in the course featured the creation of a traditional drum, complete with a song gifted by St. Mary’s resident Elder on Campus Casey Eaglespeaker.

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“Casey taught us the Buffalo Song, which is one of his Sundance songs,” said Michelle Scott, Director of Indigenous Initiatives at St. Mary’s University. “The story of the buffalo, as Casey shares it, is that buffalo never shies away from the storm so when anything is happening in your life, you take it head on and you move quicker when you try to move through it versus trying to avoid the storm.”

The celebration of learning was a way to share food, to share community and share the song as well as the story of what the ten classes meant to all involved.

Scott believes a course such as Igniting the Fire is important because it offers people to explore their own story in ways that are positive and uplifting.

“Whenever I’ve spoken to Indigenous people who are interested in the program – culture, tradition and language are things that they are wanting more of,” said Scott. “Community is so important, and belonging. The five students who finished were committed and dedicated and it really became a community for them.”

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“St. Mary’s has really become a safe place and community for them.”