For Paskwamoostoosi Lightning, the Indigenous Student Affairs’ (ISA) Indigenous Student and Community Engagement Coordinator, Laurentian University’s tri-cultural mandate is a unique and important feature that contributes to the sense of community amongst students. Laurentian is Canada’s only university with a tricultural mandate, offering a post-secondary experience in English and French with a comprehensive approach to Indigenous education.
Lightning, whose first name Paskwamoostoosi (Paskwa) means “buffalo child” in Plains Cree, is originally from Maskwacis, Alberta. He is a proud descendant of his grandfather, Albert Lightning, who was a medicine man and prominent political and ceremonial figure in Alberta. He helped found the Indian Brotherhood of Alberta, now a part of the Assembly of First Nations. Lightning is trilingual in Cree, Ojibway, and English.
Lightning has recently completed the requirements to his degree from Laurentian in Indigenous Studies with a minor in Political Science. This degree will be conferred to him later this month. “What I focus on is the political side of Indigenous relations with the government,” said Lightning. “The two subjects complemented each other well.”
When Lightning first arrived at Laurentian, he said that he felt “confused and shy. I didn’t know where anything was… I was kinda disoriented at first.” However, after being introduced to the ISA, Lightning found an amazing community that helped him foster a strong sense of belonging: “The ISA is where I found my place here at the University… It became like a home to me,” he explained.
The Indigenous Student Affairs team strives to ensure a positive learning environment in a manner consistent with the Indigenous worldview. It is their intention to increase accessibility and retention, as well as enhance the academic experience of students of First Nations, Métis, and Inuit ancestry. They help nurture a learning environment which supports the academic, spiritual, physical and emotional well-being of the entire student body at Laurentian. According to Lightning and about the ISA, “everyone is welcome.”
Having immersed himself in many events and opportunities made available to him by the ISA during his early days of study, it wasn’t long before Lightning wanted to get more involved himself. Before his current role with the ISA, he supported work as Social Media and Events Coordinator. He also became a member of the Indigenous Students’ Circle, where he took on the role of Cultural Coordinator. What’s more, Lightning began drumming with the men’s Drumming Circle. Members would meet on a weekly basis in the Indigenous Sharing and Learning Centre (ISLC). The ISLC, which officially opened on June 21, 2017, enhances cultural, and social supports for Indigenous and non-Indigenous learners. In this space, Lightning also enjoys participating in and guiding Indigenous beadwork art, as well as supporting learners of Anishinaabemowin language, where workshops to learn the original language of the Anishinabek peoples takes place.
Notably, Lightning has been involved in drumming and other Indigenous ceremonies since birth, and especially relishes opportunities to participate in Pow Wows both near and far: “I have sang all my life and in the last ten years, I really started picking up more of the teachings and learning a lot of songs. I have been on the Pow Wow trail since I was born, but probably before that too as my Mother participated in Pow Wows when she was pregnant with me.”
For those who attended any of the nine Spring 2022 convocation ceremonies that Laurentian recently hosted to celebrate their graduating students, they witnessed Lightnight’s vocal talents, as he led each ceremony with a traditional Indigenous opening song and prayer. Many have likely also watched Lightning perform feather dancing, a ceremonial dance. Lightning is to be the lead male dancer of N’Swakamok Native Friendship Centre's National Indigenous Peoples procession occuring at Bell Park in Greater Sudbury, on June 21st, 2022.
Lightning’s peers speak fondly of his contributions to the Laurentian community. This includes Amy Commanda, current Events and Communications Coordinator, Indigenous Student Affairs: "Paskwa is an inspiring example of an Indigenous person who has contributed in their own authentic way to the local as well as wider Indigenous community. Over the years, I have been privileged to see Paskwa dance in many First Nations communities, support grassroots movements, help bolster services provided by the Indigenous Student Affairs team, and even perform at the JUNO Awards. It's awesome to see a student and now soon to be alumni of Laurentian demonstrate so much dedication and passion to their community, culture, education, and personal growth and development."
Dr. Susan Manitowabi, Interim Associate Vice-President, Office of Academic and Indigenous programs also shared words about Lightning’s character: "Whatever he is tasked with, Paskwa approaches with commitment, courage and pride. For example, when asked to do the invocation and honour song at all convocations this spring, he made a commitment to be at all ceremonies. He demonstrated courage to speak in front of a large crowd and demonstrated pride in his culture and heritage as he welcomed all graduates by singing the honour song for them. He is very student-minded and gives his all when working with his colleagues to ensure that Indigenous students are supported at Laurentian University."
For Lightning, the sky’s the limit, and he described being ongoingly committed to student excellence at the University. “I really want to help out students, especially because I’ve walked their path. I've been there. I know what they are going through.”