For a period of just over 100 years, traditional Indigenous ceremonies were illegal in Canada. Ceremonies like potlatches and powwows were forbidden, so simultaneous rituals like naming ceremonies ceased to take place. While the ban unrelentingly undermined Indigenous culture, the powwow and its powerful spectacle became a catalyst for communities to hold on to parts of their identity. Occasionally, and to mark a special occasion like a royal visit, an Indian agent would hire an Indigenous community to perform a traditional ceremony like the powwow for a small amount of money. Indigenous communities were then able to perform their traditional ceremonies while secretly fulfilling actual rituals like child naming ceremonies in an endeavoured way to hold on to their culture and identity.

It's stories like this, of perseverance and longing, that the ceremonial flute and rattle, and regalia necklaces currently sitting in the University of Lethbridge’s Markin Hall might tell if stories could spill out of them. They are a small piece of four display cases filled with numerous Indigenous artifacts, part of Dhillon School of Business teacher and researcher Don McIntyre’s personal collection. McIntyre, a member of the Wolf Clan from Lake Timiskaming Nation and a former corporate lawyer, came up with the idea to display the items after he found it difficult to find manifestations of Indigenization efforts on campus. The display cases have become a visual and tangible example that reconciliatory work is being done and that Indigenization includes a lot of things, including a space to hear stories and a place to learn and better understand the past.

The four displays focus on art and artifacts from four different regions include pieces like a fiery red Kwakwakaʼwakw dancer and copper shield necklace from the West coast Indigenous people; powwow ceremonial items like Blackfoot buffalo rattle and gifting items like buffalo teeth from Eastern Indigenous people; Inuit soapstone carvings from the people of the North; and the four sacred medicines of tobacco, sweet grass, sage and cedar, each from a different part of Turtle Island, the name used by Indigenous people to describe North America.

The items are in the process of being catalogued and part of a larger project called All Relations- A Virtual Sharing Circle. The Dhillon School of Business-funded project will use software from PhileSpace to displays cards on topics like Indigenous courses on campus, Indigenous alumnae, treaties, events, partnerships, traditional Indigenous ceremony, Elders and more. It will also house images of artifacts and art like the ones found on display on the second-floor atrium of Markin hall. As each item gets replaced with new and different items, the original images will continue to live on in and add to the database. McIntyre hopes that ULethbridge students from diverse Indigenous backgrounds will also participate in the project by bringing in their own meaningful items and artifacts for temporary display.

Dhillon School of Business dean, Dr. Kerry Godfrey, says the Philespace project is just one of many ongoing projects in the works to further our efforts on the path of reconciliation within the Dhillon School of Business. “We’ve been very vocal about how valuable Indigenous perspectives are to us as a school and as part of a business education,” Godfrey says. “The All Relations- A Virtual Sharing Circle project is a visual reminder that Indigenous viewpoints are essential to inclusive business practice in Canada.”

The Philespace project comes on the heels of other initiatives at the school including membership with the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business and working on the Progressive Aboriginal Relations (PAR) process, becoming the first business school in Canada to include an Indigenous course as part of the core degree, and appointing renowned international scholar and leader Dr. Leroy Little Bear (BA ’72, DASc ’04) as adjunct professor to advise the school and dean on continued reconciliation efforts.

Inuit soapstone carvings on display in Markin Hall.

While powwows have ceased to be illegal, the pursuit to maintain civilization and identity has not ended for most Indigenous peoples. “I have spent my entire life trying to understand what it is to be an Indigenous man,” McIntyre says. To him, the items on display are not just artifacts, but living agents of wonder, identity and belonging. Many of them gifts, displaying them is also a way to give back. “When I stop and look at these items that have come into my life and the story of them coming together,” McIntyre continues, “it gives me a sense of wonder and wanting because I want to know more. The PhileSpace, All Relations Virtual Sharing Circle, gives students and I a forum to start and engage in those conversations of understanding.”

All students are invited to view the Indigenous display cases, part of the All Relations- A Virtual Sharing Circle PhileSpace project on the second-floor atrium of Markin Hall at the University of Lethbridge’s Lethbridge campus. The case closest to the Indigenous Governance and Business Management offices (M2057) also includes a bottom drawer where all students are welcome to take a sample bundle of the four sacred medicines, collected by Don McIntyre and funded by the Dhillon School of Business.

Need guidance or cultural mentoring? Elders from the Indigenous community are on campus most weeks. Find their schedule here.