Three men sing and drum in a semi-circle around a large powwow drum.

Drum social event at UTM campus celebrates Indigenous culture

Thursday, June 16, 2022 - 2:01pm
Sharon Aschaiek

The rhythmic thumping of a large powwow drum filled the fresh spring air on the North Terrace of the Maanjiwe nendamowinan building as the University of Toronto Mississauga kicked off National Indigenous History Month.  

The Drum Social welcomed about 30 UTM community members for the purpose of honouring the culture and heritage of the diverse Indigenous communities that, despite Canada’s history of oppression and discrimination, continue to endure and find ways to thrive.  

“It’s important to acknowledge what happened to Indigenous peoples in this country—we have gone through challenges that we are still navigating,” said co-organizer and host Tee Duke, an Anishinaabekwe and the Assistant Director of Indigenous Initiatives in the Equity, Diversity & Inclusion Office at UTM. “But I think it’s just as important to acknowledge our resiliency and strength, as well as the richness of our culture, knowledge and languages.”  

That richness came to life through the music of Tasunke Sugar, his younger brother Jordan Sugar — both of whom are of Cree descent — and their friend Isiah McFarlane, who have been performing together as a trio since they were kids. At the UTM event on June 3, they performed intertribal music, a style of drumming and singing that is inclusive of all Indigenous communities.  

“It’s beautiful to be a part of UTM’s first drum social and the singing is incredible,” said Maria Hupfield, a professor in UTM’s Visual Studies and English departments and the Canada Research Chair in Transdisciplinary Indigenous Arts, who wore a skirt with colourful horizontal ribbons.  “A lot of Anishinaabe people wear ribbon skirts to show that we’re doing the work of representing our culture and our people,” she said.  

Attendees at the Drum Social
Guests at the Drum Social at UTM's Maanjiwe nendamowinan. (Photo by Nick Iwanyshyn)

“I’m really enjoying the drumming, and meeting people at UTM who are doing important work on Indigenous matters,” said Scout Swartz, program coordinator at U of T’s Sexual & Gender Diversity Office. 

This celebration is the first in a series of events planned by UTM’s Indigenous Centre to mark National Indigenous History Month. Established in 2009, the month is one way the federal government aims to recognize the traditions and contributions of First Nations, Inuit and Metis communities, and walk the path of reconciliation.  

Such events are more important than ever at a time when Canada continues to reckon with its historical mistreatment of Indigenous peoples. The country’s settler colonialist campaign of cultural genocide continues to echo to this day in the form of persistent systemic racism and discrimination, and the recent (and still ongoing) grim discoveries of unmarked burial sites at residential schools where kidnapped Indigenous children perished.   

It’s vital to acknowledge the trauma created by Canadian settler colonialism, including the Residential School System, notes UTM Vice-President and Principal Alexandra Gillespie.  

“The effects of this system persist today in pervasive structures of inequality and in the intergenerational trauma that many Indigenous families continue to experience,” noted Gillespie in her message recognizing National Indigenous History Month.  

Event co-organizer Jessica Tabak said fêting the diverse facets of Indigenous culture and heritage in Canada is an essential part of the reconciliation process.  

“Today is a day of celebration and a kickoff to what is a celebratory month, but also a heavy month,” says Tabak, UTM’s Indigenous Student Support Specialist.  

She noted that the campus Indigenous Centre will host several events to mark this month, which includes National Indigenous Peoples Day on June 21.  

“If folks leave feeling like they connected with someone in a good way and are going about this month in a reflective way, that’s a positive thing.”