SOI @ CRE Blog: Andrew Fitzsimmons

When I first learned about the Canadian Roots Exchange 2018 Conference (CRE) in Sudbury I thought it sounded amazing. A conference with hundreds of young Canadians getting together to talk about reconciliation and Indigenous cultures. It sounded intriguing, important, and relevant to me. Sadly, I knew I would not be able to attend. I’m a master’s student at the University of Victoria; my schedule is packed and money can be tight, to say the least. I left a comment on the Students on Ice (SOI) Facebook post about CRE saying I would love to attend but sadly couldn’t afford it. To my surprise this led to an amazing turn of events.

Rachel from SOI asked me to formally apply to join a SOI delegation attending the conference. If I was selected from the applicants I would be asked to join them.  I complied and it was worthwhile. I was fortunate enough to join fourteen other SOI family members in Sudbury this past February.

I could continue to go on about the smaller details of my travels, the conference, venue, and Sudbury itself; all of which were great, but that would be a disservice to the big ideas that were shared at the CRE conference. So now I wanted to share the five most impactful lessons I took from CRE 2018. Some were concepts I knew before, things I feel most people know but struggle to enact in their lives. Others were completely novel concepts presented by others at the conference or crafted based on my own experiences.

1. People will challenge my world views. Take it in, absorb, and reflect.

This is pretty straight forward. I’ve heard it dozens of times before, yet it is very difficult to actually follow through with. During some of the panels I heard some ideas that were difficult for me to intellectually come to terms with. They challenged my personal identity and therefore, who I am as a person. Instead of shutting those people and ideas out, I found myself taking three simple steps. I listened. I absorbed. I reflected. In the end it doesn’t matter if I fully agreed or not with presenters, or the point was that struck me so deeply. What was important to find the common ground, discover what I could learn from this person’s position, and take that on in my understanding of the world.

The delegation in Sudbury (left). A drum circle and round dance on Day 2 (right).


2. Always be open to make new connections.

Students on Ice and CRE 2018 are both great examples of this concept in action. Be open to connecting with anyone and everyone you can. I had to take active steps to not limit myself to a bubble or clique. I met so many interesting people through both experiences. These people have skill sets, knowledges, and experiences I could never begin to fathom. Making connections with people is rewarding, fulfilling, and leaves a lasting impact after an event like CRE. I can carry these connections forward and into my future. This is but one way to have events such as joining a Students on Ice expedition, or delegation, continue to have a lasting impact. Plus isn’t networking the trend de jour anyways?

Andrew at the SOI booth, connecting with other CRE participants and educating them about the SOI experience.


3. We all have a role in reconciliation. As a non-Indigenous person I should strive to be an ally.

I am not an Indigenous person. My parents are immigrants from the United Kingdom. They moved to Saskatchewan in the 1980s. Even as a second generation Canadian, reconciliation is my responsibility. Being an active player in Canada’s reconciliation efforts involves a few things: knowing the truth, accepting the truth, taking personal responsibility to improve relationships between myself as a member of the Canadian public and Indigenous Peoples. I attended a workshop at CRE 2018 called “Indigenous Leadership in Post-Secondary (Métis perspective)” and it was by far one of the highlights of the conference for me. The speaker at the workshop, Jordan Adilman (University of Saskatchewan), said some words in his workshop that really stuck with me. “Are you an ally by convenience, or an ally by conviction?” To me this meant that being an ally to Indigenous Peoples is not just something in vogue right now. It has to be something I take holistically into my life. It has to affect my actions, decisions, votes, and heart. It isn’t enough to ‘talk-the-talk’ I must also ‘walk-the-walk’. I already am planning to take this lesson in in my master’s research. I will keep this phrase in my head and attempt to further live my life as an ally of conviction.

Jonathan and Andrew


4. Try new things. It truly is the best way to learn.

Often in grad school I notice students like myself get stuck in the rut of becoming highly specialized. Whilst this is great it is also very limiting. At the conference I tried several new activities. Activities I would not typically pursue, but carpe diem, seize the day, YOLO, and whatnot. I attended a hoop dancing class, a medicine bag making activity, and an Ojibwe language class. To be honest, dancing, handiwork, and languages are not in my repertoire of skills. However, these activities taught me a lot. I had fun. I learned new things about the world and myself. These new experiences are humbling in a good way.  In short, it paid off to leave my comfort zone. When I just go for it, I can learn a lot!

Andrew making a medicine pouch as part of a workshop.


5. Giiwedinong – The North Star

At the CRE conference we were constantly reminded of the phrase Giiwedinong. This translates roughly to North Star (Polaris) in the Ojibwe language. This can seemingly be interpreted in many ways. For me it meant follow my heart, my guiding light, and what inspires me. Giiwedinong will be continuing to follow the master’s research I was inspired to undertake by the Students on Ice 2015 Arctic Expedition. No matter if I feel like I’m not good enough, or I’m not doing enough, or don’t belong in the place that I am (and trust me those are daily thoughts) I need to keep following the lessons learned.   Stay on course. Keep my head up. And know my North star is leading me down the right path.

The SOI delegation


Thank you for taking the time to read my blog post. I hope it doesn’t read as too prescriptive. Find what works for you. I want to thank Students on Ice for everything they’ve ever done for me, including allowing me to join their delegation to CRE 2018. I also want to thank Canadian Roots Exchange and Laurentian University for hosting such a wonderful event.

Rachel, Andrew, and Jonathan

Students on Ice is proudly supported by bv02.

This website was made possible by a generous contribution from the Leacross Foundation.