Powwow dance has been crucial in helping Kelli Marshall discover her identity. An Anishinabe Kwe from the Miichi Saagiig territory of Hiawatha First Nation, as well as an activist, dancer, storyteller, mother, daughter, sister, and auntie, Kelli has been dancing powwow for ten years – travelling across Turtle Island to learn, share, and teach different dance styles. From the main stage at The Junos to tiny villages in Nova Scotia, dancing has opened many doors for Kelli – something she hopes to share with Indigenous students at Trent.
Kelli joined the First Peoples House of Learning (FPHL) team in October 2022 as the Indigenous enrolment advisor, and now hosts the Tuesday night powwow classes through FPHL as one of the many ways to share her passion for Indigenous culture with the community.
“I think when you make that connection, your spirit feels home. You hear the drumbeat of Mother Earth, and you're connected to your people," said Kelli. "I hope that they're able to share in that pride that I have because their ancestors weren't able to do those dance styles."
The dance class invites Indigenous people to explore dancing, as well as gain confidence and expertise, while breaking down barriers between Indigenous peoples and higher education.
Creating experiences to engage Indigenous students in higher education
Her classes are part of FPHL's innovative experiential recruiting efforts to create a welcoming space for students and community members where Indigenous peoples can see themselves reflected and respected on the Trent campus. Kelli has seen significant progress and growth in her students since she started teaching in January and expressed pride in their achievements. "I can't wait to see all the amazing things that they do," Kelli said.
Kelli's work with FPHL has her travelling again, this time to communities all over Ontario to recruit brilliant Indigenous youth to Trent University. For Kelli, education is part of reclaiming, and every student deserves to be in post-secondary education, where their whole identity is affirmed and celebrated.
Dance as a form of resistance
Kelli believes that teaching powwow dancing is a form of resistance, a way for Indigenous people to reclaim their culture and identity.
"Every time I teach someone, every time I see someone come out into the arena and start dancing, that's reclaiming," she said. "That's our resistance because we're still here. Not only are we still here, but we are a powerful, strong and beautiful people."
Kelli's Powwow dance class is just one example of how universities can actively work towards creating a more inclusive and welcoming environment for Indigenous students and community members. With her dedication and passion for Indigenous culture and education, Kelli is making a significant impact in the lives of those around her.