Toronto

A little late on this one but..

As I mentioned in my last post, after my visits to Six Nations and New Credit, I made my way to Toronto to enjoy a weekend exploring the city. And I can honestly say.. I never thought I’d love Toronto so much.

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Toronto reminded me much of New York City — bustling, hectic, fun, with the whole world in one city. I think Toronto is more diverse than any city I’ve been to. Sure, NYC is diverse, but I felt like Toronto was less sectioned off than most cities. I didn’t just meet tourists, I met many immigrants who told me their stories throughout my time in the city. And it was a fresh reminder, to me, that people, not places, are what make any travel experience.

So my first day in Toronto, I arrived around 1pm via train. After checking into the Chelsea Hotel, I took a scenic walk downtown to check out the iconic CN Tower.

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I opted against going to the top of it, and instead, rushed to get a tour of the Steam Whistle brewery, which my host the day before (during my visits to Six Nations and New Credit) had strongly recommended. The brewery was typical of most of my experience, but the service was probably the best I have had. I believe the tour was $10-12, and it included as many “samples” as you wanted (though they don’t advertise that).

The tour was made especially interesting as I was accompanied by a Turkish gentleman who has been living in Toronto for 10 years. He had decided to bring his wife and 3-year-old daughter and family friends into Toronto for the day, and after some boring time at the aquarium, decided to escape across the street for a solo brewery tour instead. He told me that his wife was Colombian and that when they got married they never even questioned how diverse their family looked because TORONTO is so diverse. His daughter speaks 3 languages already and understands a 4th. It’s the simple things that amaze me, I suppose.

I then booked a tour for Saturday through my hotel concierge desk (again, excellent service) and opted to spend the rest of the day enjoying parks of Toronto and getting some much needed rest in the hotel (as I had been traveling for 2 long days with very early starts).

My tour picked me up on Saturday morning and made its way down to Niagara Falls. However, before Niagara Falls, we were able to enjoy some wine tasting at a vineyard along the way. For my first time, I tried frozen grape wine, which is like a dessert wine, and supposedly, the Niagara region is a world leader in this specialty wine. It was very good but, indeed, very sweet.

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And then came Niagara Falls.

First and foremost, I was impressed with the shops and hotels and practically the city of Niagara Falls. It was a true tourist destination, but it lit up like Las Vegas. Below is a shot of the city from the water (though not a very good one).

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Secondly, being such a tourist destination, I expected it to be much filthier. However, it was incredibly clean, no trash on the sidewalks, and very green and well-groomed park scenery.

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And finally, I was most impressed with the falls. When one tends to visit these places seen on TV, they can be underwhelming. However, it all lived up to the hype and more. I was just so at peace gazing at the falls (and being drenched in them).

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About 8 people were on the tour by themselves (while the rest were families or couples). And being by ourselves, we were seated together at the front of the bus. I sat next to a pilot from Pakistan who had just become a father for the first time, and he was a very polite, very talkative man who kept me quite entertained until the jetlag hit him on the way back and he fell asleep. Another man I met and spoke with was from Indonesia, and he had come to Toronto for a Microsoft conference. He then introduced me to the man sitting next to him, who happened to be a man from South Africa who is soon to pursue his PhD in education. As we spoke, we learned we had similar interests, and we have remained in contact ever since, as he is now hoping to attend the Comparative and International Education Society (CIES) Annual Conference next spring!

I regret not getting pictures with my new friends, but I’m horrible about thinking about pictures in the moment, so here’s a picture of my lonesome self for the heck of it..

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After our time at the falls, we made our way to Niagara-on-the-lake… a small, quaint town a little ways down river, where we enjoyed some of the most famous ice cream in Canada..

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And gazed from gazebos toward Toronto across the water..

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Finally, we made our way back to Toronto. We arrived back around 8:00-9:00pm, and I decided I would go check out some of the live music scene, based off of the recommendation of my tour guide from the day. While catching an Uber pool, the girl I was riding with happened to be going to a place a few blocks from my destination. However, as we pulled up to the venue that I was going to, she read the name on the building… “Ferraro?.. That’s who you’re going to see? My friend is the drummer for Ferraro!” She then opted to get out with me and introduce me to the band before they went on.

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It was a very small venue, no more than 100 people, and it was great to experience the local scene. I also made friends with a group of Irish immigrants in their early 20s, which again diversified my time in the city.

For my last day in Toronto, I spent time exploring more of the city. Parks, universities, local favorites (see: best cheesecake in Toronto below)..

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I also learned that the IndyCar races were in Toronto for the weekend! They had closed off a part of downtown for the cars to race, so I made my way to the fence line and watched those for awhile. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get those pictures to upload from my phone.

Overall, it was a wonderfully serendipitous time in Toronto, and I can’t wait to go back!

Until next time..

Tyler Hallmark

Southern Ontario

It’s been quiet these past 2-3 weeks, hence the lack of blog posts. However, last weekend, I found myself in southern Ontario for my first time. While Thunder Bay does sit in the south of the province, it is not classified as “southern Ontario”, as southern Ontario is actually the little leg of Ontario that borders 3 of the Great Lakes.

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This trip was my first solo trip on my internship. I boarded a plane early on Thursday morning and landed in Toronto at approximately 8am. At this point, another contact from my organization picked me up and drove me south to visit Six Nations and New Credit First Nations.

Six Nations is the largest First Nations reserve in Canada and is made up of 6 nations: Mohawk, Oneida, Cayuga, Seneca, Onondaga, and Tuscarora. Meanwhile, New Credit (which is Mississauga) is one of the smaller First Nations and closely borders Six Nations (one might think they were one in the same). Both Six Nations and New Credit are two of the more progressive First Nation communities and have better resources (including financial) than the other First Nations I have visited.

I visited with local community members, particularly those in New Credit, who gave me a good sense of what was going on in the community. One item that I learned about was particularly shocking…

In New Credit, the community has accumulated some funds over the years from land claim settlements (as New Credit had stake to much of Toronto, which is high-value territory). When a New Credit member, whether they live on the reserve or off, turns 18, they receive a $20,000 check. There is no process to apply for the check or anything — the nation has a list of names on their roster and when one of them turns 18, the check will be waiting in the office to be picked up (and 2 forms of ID are needed when they pick it up).

I met with one girl who had just turned 18 and had been accepted into a very competitive program at McMaster University in Toronto. She told me that she had put her check in a savings account at the bank and intended to use the money to pay off her college loans (which she would pursue once she finished high school). Simply put, she had a plan for her future. And it was students like this that the elders envisioned when they created this new funding opportunity. However, this isn’t always the case. Many young people will blow their money on cross-country trips, or even worse: drugs and alcohol.

The community does a few other models of handouts: such as “living stipends” that appear sporadically to accommodate families when essential living costs see an increase. I was told that these handouts are particularly challenging for those who are recovering drug addicts or alcoholics, as this serves as a strong temptation and often leads them back into bad habits. However, as we see with many First Nation communities (and politics in general), if a Chief and Council attempt to adjust the policy and input stipulations (I suggested required money management courses or even loan repayment options in lieu of cash checks for college students), then the Chief and Council members will be replaced in the next election cycle (which are every 2-4 years). When one is worried about losing their place in office, it’s hard to be progressive.

I was also shocked by the number of tobacco shops in Six Nations. On the main street leading into Six Nations, 6 shops sat side by side (and this is not including many other shops on reserve). Despite the competition, they all make plenty of profit. There is also a cigarette factory on the reserve which acts as the largest employer. While this industry has been beneficial to the community in some regards, I was also told that the manager of human resources for the plant has refused offers of free education for her workers as she directly told my colleague “if people are educated, they will want more money or they will leave, and that does not benefit me.” It’s a sad fact that many businessmen are like this, however, I was still surprised that someone would be so straight-forward in their response.

During my time in Six Nations, we also got to visit some of the postsecondary education and training providers in the community, including GREAT and Six Nations Polytechnic. GREAT took me back to my high school days, as I spent much of my senior year at a technical school earning college credits. However, when I asked about whether any secondary partnerships had occurred, there were limited opportunities for secondary students to enroll. Six Nations Polytechnic is another Aboriginal institute (there are 9 in Ontario) that provides a wide variety of courses in the community, however, like the other Aboriginal institutes, Six Nations Polytechnic lacks its own accreditation and thus provides the curriculum provided by other postsecondary institutions (another issue I’ve brought up, believe me).

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Overall, my trip was very insightful and I have been using many of these meetings to inform my research on my report. After my trip to Six Nations and New Credit, I made my way to Toronto, but I’m currently on a bit of a deadline so I had to keep this blog rather short for now. I’ll blog about the Toronto memories in a couple of days. 🙂

Until next time…

Tyler Hallmark

Understanding “Indigenous”

Well, I began writing this blog on Canada Day, July 1st, (Happy Canada Day!) but I got distracted by other activities (such as watching fireworks from my backyard) that I forgot to finish it…

My work has slowed down lately, as I have been working on the first draft on my report (which was due on Monday, July 4th, the first Independence Day that I have not celebrated and worked instead.. Happy Independence Day!). Most of my report thus far has been an outline, and I look forward to sharing that report with you, the reader, once we release it in the Fall.

However, while typing up my report this past week, I had to include a disclaimer in my report that I think is important to be known. The lesson of the week? Language is a fickle friend.

As my interests revolve around working in the realm of access and equity, I have focused on indigenous learners up to this point. Coming from a Cherokee background, I’ve worked through high school and college to get closer to my roots, which has led me to understanding challenges that indigenous people all around the world face. And I’ve learned that “indigenous” is the word that I use most when discussing the population at-large (ie, “all around the world”). Indigenous tends to have the least connotation of general terms (vs. aboriginal, native, or indian) and sounds the most.. err.. proper? . Indigenous is also the term used most often by the U.N., such as in the U.N. Declaration of Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

As much as I dislike generalizing in such a large sense, my interests are just that.. general. I have a general interest in many things, and I especially like learning about and working with indigenous populations — be that the Cherokee in Oklahoma, the Cree in Ontario, the Sami in Norway, or the Mapuche in Chile.

It is important that when one is writing or addressing a specific group that you try your best to speak to what they would want to be called (which is usually the tribal name). However, working in Canada, I’ve learned that when addressing all of the groups in one country, one should learn what that country has designated those groups (whether you agree with the sentiment or not). When speaking to indigenous groups throughout the U.S., the given distinction is “American Indian and Alaska Native.” When speaking to groups in Canada, the given distinction is “Aboriginal” and/or “First Nations, Métis, and Inuit.”

This may sound very boring, but using proper terms and communicating respectfully is important in any field. I have actually found myself offended when speaking with some officials in meetings in Canada, thinking.. this is who they sent to help these groups? .

So how does one learn what to say and what not to say?

Research. Really, before entering any context, I’d recommend learning the basics of the history so that you don’t step on any toes. President Obama hasn’t done his research at times (see: Queen refusing his toast). And sometimes, mistakes happen.

Ask. I think it’s important to practice respectful approaches to asking a question. Do NOT ask something such as, “So what are you?” ..just, no. For more on what not to do, see Buzzfeed. Be genuine in your approach.  Check out this article for more.

And there are probably more tips I could give, but I’m not claiming to know everything. 🙂

As a bonus, for more history on what the U.N. defines as “indigeneity” check out this link.

Anyways… outside of the report, I have some meetings coming up with university officials in Thunder Bay (this week) and government officials in Toronto (next week). I will also be helping with instructor training in the coming weeks, teaching college instructors how to use our online platform for remote instruction. Fun times ahead!

Until next time…

Tyler Hallmark

EDIT: After this post, I learned that the Canadian government is now transitioning to using the term indigenous rather than aboriginal, following the Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.

Planes, trains, and automobiles…

And boat taxis, and ferries, and buses…

That’s been the theme for this week… transportation.

On Sunday, T (my supervisor) and I set out on a plane to Timmins, Ontario, where we would catch a bus on Monday morning to Cochrane, where we would catch the Polar Bear Express to Moosonee.

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The Polar Bear Express was actually nicer than the trains I’ve taken in the northeast US, AND there’s currently a project in the works to make it even nicer by 2017. I had a nice lasagna lunch aboard the PBE.

The rain started pouring just as we pulled into Moosonee, which is the last stop on the line. So all the passengers crowded under a tin roof with their luggage, awaiting taxis to take them home. And since Moosonee is so small, there is only a limited number of taxis, making numerous trips.

On the PBE, we happened to meet the Chancellor, President, and Registrar from the University of Sudbury, with whom we caught a taxi. The taxi drove us to the boat docks, where we then waited in line for a boat taxi to take us to Moose Factory Island, home of the Moose Cree First Nation. Our boat taxi was driven by a soft-spoken giant who had serious skills.

On the train, an older man walked by and saw my jacket, and said, “You go to Penn? I used to coach rowing in Philadelphia!” Come to find out, he was the owner of where we were staying for the night, the Cree Village Eco Lodge. The Eco Lodge was phenomenal, with a truly home-like feel to it… I really wish all the hotels I stayed at were like this.

The reason we left on Sunday was so that we could make it to the very first graduation of the University of Sudbury’s Indigenous Studies Distance Learning program, which is why the Chancellor, President, and Registrar were all traveling with us. Four ladies made up the first graduating class. The graduation kicked off with a drumming performance by an all female drum group, followed by several speakers, including President Pierre Zundel and Chief Earl Cheechoo.

Again, most of our time was spent building relationships, which was easy in such a celebratory atmosphere.

The following day, we spent time meeting with various stakeholders to determine how this program will spread in other communities — negotiating space for learning centers and time and travel for instructors as well as discussing other minor logistics. We then caught a ferry back across the water, a taxi to the airport, and a small plane to Attawapiskat.

After a stopping in the other fly-in communities on the way, we landed at the smallest airport I’ve ever been to (no security!) and walked what would be equivalent to a couple of city blocks to our accommodations for the night.

We were unlucky in that all of the food / grocery places in town were closed for National Aboriginal Day (see below: the only grocery store, the Northern Store)…

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However, we were also lucky that it was National Aboriginal Day, as we could partake in all the festivities… most notably, the food! Including… fried bannock with homemade cranberry sauce and a variety of meats.. beaver, goose, moose, caribou, rabbit, pike, “white fish”, duck, crane..

I also got to talk with some of the youth about sports and meet a high school soccer team from Toronto that had raised money to help the community.

In recent months, Attawapiskat has made international headlines after declaring a state of emergency over a spate of suicide attempts. People all around the world have reached out.. delivering letters of hopedonating musical instruments, or in the case of the soccer team from Toronto, hosting sports clinics. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has had meetings with community leaders, which shows he’s listening, but Chief Bruce Shisheesh says allocating money for mental health services isn’t enough.

Much of our discussions revolved around these happenings and what the community needs going forward. We met with the band manager as well as the head of the local Ontario Works office. There’s been a recent documentary regarding Attawapiskat, called After The Last River, if you’re so inclined to learn more. There’s also a Facebook support group if you’d like to reach out and help in the state of emergency.

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Until next time…

Tyler Hallmark

Road trip!

Yikes, falling behind on this blog already… so much to tell!

Last Wednesday, T (my supervisor) and I hit the road to visit three rural Aboriginal communities – Red Rock Indian Band, Ginoogaming First Nation, and Constance Lake First Nation.

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The drive was gorgeous, especially in the parts where the road followed the river for miles. Ontario has lakes aplenty.

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We were even greeted by moose.

Red Rock Indian Band was our first stop, where we serendipitously ran into the new Chief as we left our learning center that was located in the same building as his office. As he was on his way out for the day, we didn’t get much of a chance to talk to him.

The first night, we found ourselves in Ginoogaming around 7pm, had dinner, and then made our way out to the reservation. The main building (on the left) happened to be packed for bingo night. We then drove to the other side of the reservation to visit our learning center, but the building (on the right) was locked. One of the doors was propped open, however, and we accidentally set off the alarm in the building as we went inside to see if anyone was around.

After setting off the alarm, we went back to bingo night and searched for someone to tell. After being re-routed around the community and failing to find anyone who could turn the alarm off, we went back to our hotel and happened to see a local police officer who had just received note of the alarm.

Red Rock and Ginoogaming were more of pit stops on the way to Constance Lake. The next morning, we woke up bright and early and met up with one of the other Regional Director, setting course for Constance Lake to meet with the band manager and discuss logistics for the learning center.

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One of the band office workers, who I met at APEX a week prior, met up with us and showed us around the community. One of the most trying tasks we’ve had in Constance Lake has been finding a location for the learning center. For a few years, we had a really nice learning center, however, the band wanted to rent that space out (to make money off of it), and we were forced out.

When we first walked into the new location, none of the computers were connected. The other Regional Director had been working on the space, but the other office we share the building with told us that the space might not last long, and so we hesitated on setting up the computers. Our host from the band office then drove us around the community to discuss other options, which were quite limited. Throughout the drive, he shared stories with us from his days as a youth who was abused by a church. As a friendly and well-connected community member, he shouted random greetings out his window as we drove past people he knew in the community.

As we spoke to stakeholders in the community, two lessons really stood out:

  1. People want to be heard. In the beginning, many of the people we spoke with were resistant to helping us, however, as we listened to them and let them get some feelings off their chest, they soon became our strongest allies.
  2. Communication and understanding are needed among the many levels of stakeholders. As we spoke to operations on-the-ground, we noticed that Chief and Council in many of these communities have little contact with those who are providing services. Thus, the service providers do not feel supported in their work.

In the end, we didn’t leave with any tangible results. However, much of the time spent in First Nations communities goes toward building relationships. We now have some relationships to build upon and some ideas for going forward.

Until next time…

Tyler Hallmark

 

So what’s Thunder Bay like?

Well… Thunder Bay is something.

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In the beginning, I was saying that the area that Thunder Bay is in is essentially the Oklahoma of Canada. However, I realized that Thunder Bay (108,359), being the largest city in the vicinity, was less than a third the size of Tulsa (391,906). So really, this is more like the South Dakota of Canada (shout out to A-a-ron).

While it may be hard to believe, Thunder Bay is the most populous community in northwest Ontario (even though it’s kind of in southern Ontario, geographically speaking) and the largest community on Lake Superior (gotta admit that the US let me down a little bit). But really, Thunder Bay has some really nice people, and it’s quite convenient to get around if you have a car (which, luckily, I do).

I haven’t got to explore much yet, but I’ve been given some tours by B. I got to see the Waterfront District, which is an up-and-coming area with some restaurants, bars, and a lighthouse. I hope to take a boat cruise some time this summer, as it would be great to get back on the water! Maybe I’ll ski or fish?

Prince Author’s Landing at Marina Park, in the Waterfront District, offers a lot of activities when summer comes around (though not many are open yet). The area offers a splash pad for kids that’s about to open, and it doubles as an ice rink in the winter.

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I’ll be sure to post about other festivities as they come to Thunder Bay… definitely looking forward to some concerts!

Also, this area of Ontario has some really great hikes! I’ve already drove to Ft. William to see Mt. McKay, and we’re planning a hike for some time in the next couple of weeks.

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There’s also Canada’s longest suspension bridge and Canada’s longest zipline just outside of town at Ouimet Canyon

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Thunder Bay’s a pretty basic town (already dropped the term ‘city’), but I’m determined to make the most of it!

Until next time…

Tyler Hallmark

All settled in…

Well, I made it. Two short flights and I found myself in Thunder Bay, Ontario, just before sundown… or at least what I expected to be sundown, until I found out that the sun actually sets at 10:30pm, not 8:30pm.

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After waiting 20 minutes for a taxi to arrive, because the airport is so small with so few visitors that taxis don’t find it necessary to wait unless called upon, I finally made my way to my AirBNB. Now, AirBNB can be hit or miss, but if you review where you’re staying close enough, I’ve generally had good experiences with it. But… not this time.

My room was great when I arrived. My host was a little awkward, but hey, it was livable. Now, I’d been scouting this particular place for a month and had already contacted him, letting him know that I really wasn’t sure of my situation but that I was interested. Before arriving in Thunder Bay, I had not had contact with my boss for 6 weeks, so I wasn’t sure if I would be staying in one city for the summer or traveling throughout the province… thus, I sought a host who could be flexible.

After staying 3 nights with my host, with a few strict rules but nothing I couldn’t live with, I found out that a woman I am working with (let’s call her B) was looking to rent out the basement of her home for the summer. Not only was the rent HALF of what I’d be paying at the AirBNB but I would also get a free ride to work and a much sweeter set up! Great!

On my 4th night, I informed my host I would be leaving the next day, and I was told to cancel my reservation online so that he could rent it out to someone else. Well, since his policy setting was “flexible”… I ended up getting more than half of my original 11-day payment back (though I had to pay for the 4th and 5th night). The host, clearly upset with this and after having a little back-and-forth, tells me, “Well, if you’re gonna f*** me over, I’m gonna f*** you over.. get out TONIGHT.”  …what?

So, it’s 9:30pm, and I have no place to stay. I called B, the only person I know in Thunder Bay at this point, who doesn’t answer for 20 minutes as she is at a friend’s party… adds a little stress to the whole situation. Finally, I get ahold of her and she says, “I’ll be there in 10!” Despite not expecting me to move in until the next day, she was extremely welcoming and got me all settled into where I’ll be living all summer!

So yeah, he was really not a nice guy, and as people have told me since, it was not very Canadian of him. Also, AirBNB customer service gave me basically all my money back… so that was pretty sweet. 🙂

——-Let’s take a breather——-

The good news: that’s been the only bad news from Thunder Bay!

Really, I’m loving it here. My boss (M) has only been in town twice, and he has taken me out to every meal he can possibly get me to eat. Really, I’m still stuffed, and M’s been gone for 2 days.

My supervisor (T) is super sweet, an undercover rockstar (seriously, she’s in a band), and despite being the busiest person at my organization, always makes time to talk with me. The first week, T‘s really served as more of a teacher to me… getting me caught up on all kinds of things, especially in regards to the Aboriginal / First Nations situation in Canada. And I’ve even been able to share some US context with her.

B has become a mom away from mom.  She cooks amazing meals, forcing me to be healthy but with food that is secretly delicious. She’s taken me grocery and clothes shopping multiple times now (because who knew Canada would actually be cold in the summer?). She’s also super involved in the community so I’ve been able to meet people all around town!

Oh, and B’s dog is my new best friend… we go on daily walks.

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——-Another breather——-

For my first two days on the job, I basically just read a lot in order to understand more of the context (more than I could research before I came here). A lot of the readings were internal documents that showed some statistics on the organization, who they’re serving, and some of the structure that is in place.

On Monday, I met with T to lay out my work schedule for the summer, nailing down all the details on exactly what’s expected from me and discussing some of the many questions that have come across my mind during all of the research and reading.

Yesterday, on Wednesday, we attended the Aboriginal Partnership Exchange (APEX), an annual conference held in Thunder Bay — quite the convenience!

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 At APEX, we met various Chiefs from around Ontario, spoke with educational institutions and hiring firms regarding Aboriginal initiatives, and learned about numerous projects that First Nations people are leading in developing their communities. The keynote speaker was Bernd Christmas. We also got to hear from Angelique EagleWoman, who is the first Aboriginal woman to hold that position in Canada and who I got to bond with as she received her LLM from the University of Tulsa and her husband is Cherokee!

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Next week, we will be driving to remote Aboriginal/First Nations communities in southern Ontario, and the week following, we will be flying to the very remote Aboriginal/First Nations communities in northern Ontario. I really look forward to these trips, so I’ll certainly update as I go!

Until next time…

Tyler Hallmark