Friendship Centre using social media, videos, to share Indigenous knowledge, traditions
Reeti Meenakshi Rohilla - Staff Writer
The Nishnawbe-Gamik Friendship Centre is continuing to educate the community about traditional Indigenous knowledge during the COVID-19 pandemic. Cultural Resources Coordinator Victor Lyon is endeavoring to help Native and non-Native peoples better understand one another.
Along with other employees of the Friendship Centre, Lyon has initiated a greater online presence on the Friendship Centre's Facebook page to educate and inform people of Indigenous traditional practices. They have produced videos and photos for this initiative, along with sharing content created by other individuals and groups that may add value to their undertaking.
Moving to Sioux Lookout at a very young age and having been ostracized by his peers, Lyon dropped out of school, to eventually explore and find a place in his traditional roots. This profound connection led to his career in the field of cultural and resource development. “I wasn’t brown enough for the First Nation kids because I didn’t come from a reserve, so they didn’t really want anything to do with me, and I was too brown for the non-Native kids. I understand what it’s like to experience racism, so I try to help people understand each other,” he said.
For years Lyon has been working towards developing a better understanding and coordination between Indigenous and the non-Indigenous peoples. Faced with new public health measures as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, Lyon used this as an opportunity to dust off and put to use his acquired skills from his past experience of video production while working in television for Wawatay Native Communications Society, to usher the initiative online and battle stigma around Indigenous peoples.
Lyon shared an example of prejudice that he noticed while conducting events and workshops with an organization in town, which objected to his use of drums, while activities such as craft and storytelling were well accepted.
This event triggered Lyon to create a drum to enable teaching about Indigenous practices in an interactive way to school students.
“I decided that the best thing to do to facilitate change in this community is to start working with children,” said Lyon.
He continued, “The kids just loved it. There are a lot of kids that remember and recognize the different types of drums and traditional Indigenous songs.” Lyon said he hopes that such activities and events will lead to a better understanding and consideration among the younger generation of our community. “Growing up in this community since 1979, I have witnessed a lot of racial tensions and its gradual improvement over the years. It makes me feel awesome to see those ripple effects going across the town,” said Lyon.
Lyon said that he is attempting to contact teachers at schools to collaboratively develop language awareness programs. “We had a group of people who ran a workshop here on animation using still cameras and software, and I’m thinking about trying to tap into that as well to explore. I’ve always wanted to do legends and provide those for schools. When I went in and told legends in classrooms, the kids were really attentive and focused and I think there is a lot of value to be held in those things too,” concluded Lyon.
According to the Ontario Federation of Indigenous Friendship Centres OFIFC, “The Friendship Centre vision is to improve the quality of life for Indigenous people living in an urban environment by supporting self-determined activities which encourage equal access to and participation in Canadian society and which respect Indigenous cultural distinctiveness.”
“Emerging from a nationwide, grassroots movement dating back to the 1950s, Friendship Centres are community hubs where Indigenous people living in towns, cities, and urban centres can access culturally based and culturally appropriate programs and services every day,” OFIFC further explained.