By Fred Sgambati (’83)

Christine Luckasavitch (’11, BA English and History) is an Omàmìwininì Madaoueskarini Anishinaabekwe (woman of the Madawaska River Algonquin people) with mixed settler ancestry and belongs to the Crane Clan. She grew up on her Ancestral territory at the headwaters of the Madawaska River in Whitney, Ontario, and still lives there today. She owns Waaseyaa Consulting, an Indigenous culture and heritage consulting company, and Waaseyaa Cultural Tours, an Indigenous-based tourism company operating in the Algonquin Park region. Christine is also the Executive Director of Native Land Digital, a free online resource created and led by Indigenous people for those who are not Indigenous. She is an avid explorer of both the Algonquin landscape and Algonquin history, spending as much time on the land as possible, and has worked as a licensed archaeologist, orator, author and researcher. Luckasavitch is currently a master’s student in Indigenous studies at Trent University in Peterborough. Her strong attachment to the land spans generations, giving her strength and informing her vocation. It amplifies her voice in describing lived and historical experiences that enhance awareness of Algonquin peoples and their rich culture and heritage through dialogue, storytelling and education. Luckasavitch says her Ancestors were forcibly removed from their home territory and placed into a settler community with the creation of Algonquin Provincial Park. By losing that land base, “we became subject to colonial law, which made it illegal for us to speak our language, practice culture, conduct ceremonies and tell our stories.” Her Ancestors became disconnected from the stretch of territory that had sustained them for close to 12,000 years. The effects of that displacement are still felt today. “My great-grandmother was adopted out, and she was taught by her white foster parents that she was a dirty Indian, that she was less than. That shame carried on to my grandmother, who never spoke of these things. Even though she knew, it was something that remained unsaid her entire life. My dad grew up not knowing much at all about who he is as an Algonquin person,” and Luckasavitch herself was unaware of her cultural heritage until a landmark moment changed everything while driving in a car with her parents at the age of four. A porcupine had been struck and killed in the road and she asked her mom what it was. Her mother said it was a porcupine and that Luckasavitch’s Ancestors made jewelery out of the quills. It was truly a revelation. “That’s what started my self-directed learning into what it means to be an Algonquin person,” she says. “My goal was to learn those stories that have been lost for generations and relearn my connection to territory. Ultimately, I wanted to find the ability to share those stories to help elevate Algonquin presence throughout our territory.”


It may seem odd, then, that she came to Nova Scotia to attend post-secondary school and eventually chose Acadia, but a casual question from a teacher at the time proved to be serendipitous. In Grade 11, Luckasavitch came east with her mom on a road trip to check out several Maritime universities. Acadia wasn’t on the list. But when she returned to school the following year, a supply teacher, Mr. Sturk, asked if she had looked at Acadia, telling her that he himself was a Chipman boy. When she said no, he encouraged her to consider Acadia. Luckasavitch went online, applied, was accepted and received a package two weeks later with a CD Rom that contained some campus photos and information on the small Nova Scotia school. It was her first acceptance and the photos really didn’t do justice to Acadia’s beauty, but the whole thing simply felt right. When she told her parents that she was thinking of accepting the offer, her parents simply said, “Okay,” knowing that once Luckasavitch made a decision, that was that. “When I was dropped off, the campus was far more beautiful than I would ever have imagined. The second that my mom walked away, though, I was absolutely terrified, thinking, ‘Here I am, alone in the world, by myself for the first time.’ But I was in Chase, and the RAs had been through what I was feeling before and knew how to bring us into the fold and be part of the community. I settled into that and a school culture where everyone was quite close-knit. Even when I moved off-campus in my second year and started working in the community, the Town welcomed me. I still refer to Wolfville as my other home.”

Defining moments

There were defining moments along the way too that helped to clarify her thinking and approach to life and learning. One professor, Dr. Herb Wyile, told her that she could do better when he didn’t believe she was applying her academic skills as completely as she should. Another, Dr. David Duke, encouraged her and her classmates during a final semester “to make sure you always continue to look for the truth; question what you learn before you come up with a solid answer. Make sure you always continue to research deeply.” Duke’s words resonated and when Luckasavitch returned home after graduation to spend time with family and ground herself as she considered what to do next, an opportunity to serve as an Interior Ranger in Algonquin Park came up that allowed her to come full circle and reconnect with her ancestral territory in a very personal and intimate way. “I got to know my territory better. It was a way for me to spend time on the land, develop my interest in archeology, and I also started to understand the way that my Ancestors interacted with and how they survived and thrived on the land.” She ended up working in Indigenous politics for five years after that with an ambition to help people make a positive change, deciding finally to start her own consulting business in 2016, “facilitating dialogue between Indigenous and non-Indigenous individuals and organizations, making sure that projects are followed through in a good way and based on Indigenous principles and structures.”

Photos: Alyssa Bardy of Chicory Wild Creative

Indigenous presence

She is a Director on the Acadia Alumni Association Board and says everyone at the table is welcoming and respectful. On some boards, she notes, Indigenous presence is very much tokenized, but that’s not the case with the Association. However, “with that in mind, when an Indigenous person is asked to be in these spaces and to provide representation to voices that have been silenced for so long, it’s as though we are in a constant state of teaching.” Luckasavitch approaches her work as a way to reinsert Indigenous presence where it should have been all along. She acknowledges and appreciates the presence on campus of Zabrina Whitman, Acadia’s Coordinator, Indigenous Affairs, and Elders who work with the Acadia community. Compared to Luckasavitch’s time on campus, Acadia has taken steps forward in having Indigenous presence on campus, but there is a lot more work to do. “This work is never done quickly or easily. It will take lifetimes to reconcile relationships that have been so tumultuous for so many hundreds of years. But this is a good start.” Luckasavitch adds that Acadia could do more by creating additional space for Indigenous and diverse voices and knowledge, and develop a greater understanding of that deeper history and upon whose land Acadia sits. Course curriculum could include more Indigenous content and the University could provide more training for faculty, staff and perhaps even students to enhance awareness of Indigenous culture. “I am so thankful that Indigenous students have Zabrina on campus and I am amazed by her and the work her colleagues do. My heart is very happy seeing the connection that Acadia is fostering with the Mi’kmaq community.” Luckasavitch concludes that although her Acadia experience was positive, she knows that not everyone has a similar story. Harmful stereotypes persist and motivate her to continue to advocate for change, inclusion and Indigenous presence. “I hope that the work I’m doing today will have an impact further down the road. I have a responsibility to create that space for everyone who is going to come after me in future years, and that I continue to do the work that my Ancestors started years ago: making sure that there is a space for Indigenous voices, knowledge and perspectives.”

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