Allan Vicaire sat at the McCord Museum last month, watching a story unfold that he thought he knew, and learning how much of his own history he still has the opportunity to discover. The project coordinator of the McGill Aboriginal Sustainability Project (ASP), Vicaire is leading an initiative at McGill University to bring together postsecondary volunteers and Aboriginal youth to the benefit of both communities.
Vicaire was watching a showing of The Wampum Chronicles, an oral “living” history presentation by Darren Bonaparte, which he co-organized with the museum. The pleasant surprise? It ended up being both a teaching and a learning experience.
“The events are meant to help educate people who don’t know about Aboriginal culture, but I also find I’m learning about myself in attending them,” said Vicaire, reveling in his recount. “I had some indication of what a Wampum belt was and how it represented treaties, but I didn’t know how far back you could see the histories of the community.”
Vicaire is far from uninformed about the Aboriginal community, however. He came to McGill from the Listuguj Mi’kmaq First Nation by way of Concordia University where, as a student, he worked at the Centre for Native Education and interned at the Native Friendship Centre of Montreal.
Now, he’s heading up the first “social sustainability” program backed by the Sustainability Project Fund (SPF) at McGill. Before now, the SPF supported mostly environmental projects. Vicaire said the ASP has a lot in common with these initiatives.
“With recycling, it’s everyone working together to recycle for a better future,” he explained, while fielding requests from McGill students to volunteer in the tutoring program ASP is organizing for local Aboriginal children. “Our project is about working as a community to build a better future through educational and cultural projects.”
The ASP also offers a program, in partnership with the Inter-Tribal Youth Centre, called “The Best Story Ever Told”. The media-and-art initiative connects McGill volunteers with Aboriginal youth through creative storytelling.
“It’s about learning from each other to create a space where the communities can come together,” said Jennifer Loiacono, a Master’s student in Social Work who oversees the program. “The title is a metaphor for the idea that each person comes to share an experience and we create a new, greater story from shared experiences.”
Both Loiacono and Vicaire hope to expand these programs to include communities outside of McGill and the Inter-Tribal Youth Centre. They aim to promote cooperation that is both wider and deeper and, by doing so, better understand the ties that make Montreal, and Quebec, strong. That, after all, is what sustainability is about.