Tony Arcand

Sharing the traditions of First Nations people

NorQuest College resident Elder Tony Arcand has a lot to share.

As a community leader on the Alexander First Nation north of Edmonton, he is someone who is leading by example using traditional Indigenous methods taught to him by his Elders. Now, the 75-year old is an important part of the NorQuest College commitment to students, all students.

From his chair in the Indigenous lounge where he welcomes students every Tuesday, Arcand is willing to assist anyone who walks through the door, offering advice, a sensitive ear, or even to just share a laugh.

“Three girls came in recently,” he recalls about a mid-December visit. “They were a little worried… they had tests coming up. I said, ‘come on girls you knew this was coming for the last three months, why be afraid now?’” So I told them to come and smudge every morning. I showed them how to do it and told them if they need that little bit of help to pick them up it is always here.”

Smudging is the practice of burning sage and then spreading the smoke of the smouldering plant over your body in order to connect back with the roots of Mother Earth. The sage smoke removes negative energy and helps restore a person to a proper mind, body and spirit balance.

It is that type of interaction that Arcand thrives in – young people willing to learn, re-establish or continue with cultural practices in order to be healthy in mind and body. Since August of 2013, NorQuest has embraced his knowledge and compassion, and eagerly accepted his presence at a college where nine per cent of students self-identify as First Nations, Métis or Inuit.

While the assumption may be that Indigenous students are the only demographic Arcand can connect with, this just isn’t true. A total of 55 per cent of NorQuest students were born outside of Canada, representing 87 countries. And of the nine per cent of Indigenous students at the college, many are here from outside the city and away from home for the first time. It is this connection that many at NorQuest have.

In general, college students can find themselves feeling alone and afraid, regardless of their background or country of origin. The situations and needs are the same: people in a strange place needing someone to talk with. That’s where Arcand wants to help.

“I love to share,” he says. “Whatever I learned from the Elders I pass on to someone else.”

Arcand is available to all students at their respective campuses every Tuesday.