A sense of pride washed over Rebeka Tabobondung as she accepted one of this year's President's Award for Outstanding Native Students of the Year during ceremonies at the First Nations House (FNH) at the University of Toronto in early March.
"I feel very honored to get this award and very thankful," said 30-year old Tabobondung, a member of the Wausauksing First Nation of Parry Island.
Tabobondung is currently on maternity leave from her studies at the university, caring for her son who was born in October 2005, but in September she plans to return to the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto where she is enrolled in sociology and equity studies.
Recipients of the President's Award for Outstanding Native Students of the Year are selected on the basis of their academic achievement and previous or intended future contributions to the Native community.
Tabobondung's community involvement has consisted of a number of leadership and voluntarily roles. She's the coordinator of the U of T's women's centre and is a past president of the Native Students' Association. Tabobondung was also one of the co-founders of the Coalition in Support of Indigenous Sovereignty, an organization established in 2004 to create a better understanding of what Indigenous sovereignty means to First Nations and to support efforts to achieve it.
"I think balancing school and community work is hard but it definitely is worthwhile," Tabobondung said.
One of the most rewarding and possibly the most challenging voluntary projects Tabobondung has taken on in her time at the university was helping to plan the first powwow held at the university in 2001. "To have it come full circle and see the community dancing and brought together in celebration at U of T in that space is really rewarding," she said.
Tabobondung is also making a name for herself as a film-maker. She has co-directed and produced a documentary called Original Summit: Journey to the Sacred Uprising, which was screened at the ImagineNATIVE Film and Media Arts Festival in Toronto. The film looks at Indigenous people and globalization, focusing on the Free Trade Area of the Americas summit held in Quebec City in April 2001.
"This documentary shows that globalization is in fact not a new phenomenon and it is a continuation of colonization," Tabobondung said. She wants people within the anti-globalization movement to look deeper and to see that the globalization taking place has a large history and that Indigenous people have a lot of experience to offer in terms of resisting it, "because we've been resisting it for the last 500 years."
Tabobondung said she definitely plans to continue with film-making. "I see it as a form of contemporary storytelling and I want to document our stories to share them using our own language."
Along with David Shillington and Adrian Kahgee from Maaiingan Productions-a collective of Aboriginal artists, designers and researchers working in the media arts cofounded by Tabobondung and Kahgee in 2001-Tabobondung is working on a short dramatic production tentatively called The Fourth Shadow. The film hasn't gone into production yet because work has just been completed on the research and writing stage but Tabobondung said it will be out in the near future.
"It's kind of a horror movie. It is the story of Sasquatch from an Indigenous prospective," she said.
Tabobondung praised the FNH at the U of T for the support and services it provides to Aboriginal students.
Since 1992, FNH has offered a number of cultural services and programs to students, including academic counselling, an Elder-in-residence program, bursaries and scholarships, and cultural events.
"I think that it's very powerful that the First Nations House exists for students because without the support of the people at the FNH, I think my experience at U of T would've been very different," she said.
Tabobondung also gives thanks to he community. "Without their support I wouldn't have had the chance to go to university."