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By Barry Hertz

Elder Joanne Dallaire walked slowly around the crowd, carrying a tray of burning incense, or “smudge,” in her hands.

A soothing aroma filled the air and several students and faculty members stood up to absorb and embrace the light smoke. The ritual set the stage for Ryerson’s first ever Louis Riel Day celebration. Held in the POD last Friday, almost 119 years to the day since Riel’s execution, the event was designed to celebrate identity issues affecting modern M?tis people.

“Riel fought for the right to be different,” said Dallaire, a member of the Cree Nation of Attawapiskat and a counselor on aboriginal issues of identity. “I’m so pleased to see so many colours in this room, so many nations coming together.”

Glancing around the room, it was clear the free event had drawn more people than expected. Staff had to bring in extra chairs to accommodate the number of attendees. “I’m thrilled to see everyone here,” said Janine Willie, a Ryerson advisor from Employment Equity, who organized the event.

She only started planning the event three weeks ago, but that didn’t keep her from booking notable Aboriginal academics and writers like York University’s Bonita Lawrence and writer Drew Hayden Taylor.

“Louis gave his life for recognition of being who you are,” said Lawrence, excited as she addressed the crowd. “Our challenges today in 2004 are to honor our own traditions.”

The lectures concentrated more on identity issues in M?tis culture, than on Riel himself, who was only mentioned at most five times throughout the evening. “I found that there was a bit too much jargon and not enough history of Riel,” said Ling Chow, 20, a second-year ECE student. “Still, I think Ryerson should put on more of these events, to educate everyone about different cultures.”

Willie has gotten nothing but positive feedback from the event, and hopes to hold it again next year.

“I thought it was quite successful, and we hope to do it again, as well as hold more events throughout the year on Metis isssues.”

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