by: Elise St. Germain and Gabriele Simmons, CEL placement students at the Toronto and York Region Métis Council
The story of how it is that Elise and I found ourselves in a community-engaged learning class is an interesting one. Interesting too is how it is that our placement organization, the Toronto and York Region Métis Council (TYRMC) came to find us. Hoping to look more closely at the ways in which we take part in, write, and are affected by stories, and with the desire to invite more people into the work of the TYRMC, Elise and I conceived of an event. Storying Together, a storytelling event, was made possible thanks to the generous partnering of Hart House, New College community-engaged learning students working for the Toronto and York Region Métis Council, the Infinite Reach Network and First Nations House. As well, the Centre for Community Partnerships and the Faculty of Kinesiology and Physical Education’s Equity Ideas Fund.
Happening as part of the University of Toronto’s Indigenous Education Week, Storying Together endeavored to capture the power of storytelling and the part it plays in forming, finding and reconciling identity(ies). ‘Story’ was presented in a variety of forms at this event: as a short film about urban Métis youth connecting to identity and community through culture and tradition, as digital stories created and produced by Métis community members, and as an in-person sharing circle facilitated by Métis student, Elise St. Germain and myself, a settler-Canadian student. Because of the large participant turnout, we held two smaller-scale circles concurrently. After the closing of the circles, we asked that folks who were interested record short sound bites on their thoughts around ‘story’ on our digital recorder. Elise and I felt that the stories shared in the circles were so insightful that they could be turned into a larger mobile art installation to be presented at our year-end community-engaged learning symposium. Our next steps for this project include fleshing out and further developing this audio-visual component to premiere at our April symposium and then gift to the Toronto and York Region Métis Council.
Both Elise and I were moved by how honestly and openly people shared at our event. There was a palpable sense of urgency felt by all in attendance to collectively work towards reconciliation with Indigenous peoples at a personal and community level. According to teachings that Elise has received from Métis Elders and Knowledge Keepers, story is medicine. This idea resonated with many of the individuals in attendance which included teachers, students, therapists, counsellors, and more. Whether we are Indigenous people, settlers, newcomers, or travelers; story has the power to bridge relationships across individual experiences and across communities to promote collective healing.
We hadn’t anticipated that so many people would turn out for the event; it was remarkable to see how its central themes spoke to such an array of people and how we all came together for such a successful evening. As the night came to a close, many individuals expressed an interest in volunteering with and learning more about the Toronto and York Region Métis Council. Elise and I felt so privileged to have helped to facilitate these new partnerships and to have deepened our existing ones. Had it not been for the generosity of Hart House, the Centre for Community Partnerships, and KPE’s Equity Ideas fund, this event would not have been possible. Until next time, UofT!