The Algonquin words are, no doubt, unfamiliar to many in the Algonquin College community. That will soon change following Monday’s grand opening and official naming of the DARE District courtyard and Indigenous spaces.
“The opening of our Indigenous courtyard is the beginning of a new way here at Algonquin College,” President Cheryl Jensen told more than 200 people – students, faculty, employees, visiting dignitaries, contractors, donors, and community leaders – who turned out to watch Indigenous elders perform fire and water ceremonies and learn the new names.
“Let this new courtyard, indeed, the entire DARE District provide a platform for us to learn about each other,” she said, reminding the crowd of the College’s efforts to embed Indigenous traditions within the institutional culture as part of the Truth and Reconciliation process. “Even more, let it be a place for all of us to learn more about Indigenous history, culture, and people.”
Ron McLester, Executive Director, Truth, Reconciliation & Indigenization, reinforced that ideal – “our goal is to embed Indigenous knowledge and ways of knowing into the very fabric of Algonquin College,” he said – after opening the event with an explanation of the two ceremonies.
According to Algonquin Indigenous tradition, the fire ceremony, which was held outside, is done before important meetings or special events and is prepared and tended by a traditional Fire Keeper – in this case, Elder Peter Decontie. Another Elder, Josie Whiteduck, led the indoor water ceremony, evoking the Algonquin belief in water as the element that binds all life together. Whiteduck and Decontie are members of the Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg First Nation.
Samantha Tenasco, a part-time faculty member who teaches the Algonquin language in the Aboriginal Education program, later announced the names for the DARE District’s Indigenous spaces:
* Nawapon, an Algonquin word that translates as “gathering strength for the journey,” is the new name for the Indigenous Learning Commons. Nawapon will serve as a gathering place for the College community, as well as a place where Algonquin can host events;
* The Lodge: A circular space within Nawapon that can be used for smaller gatherings.
* Ishkodewan is the title for the outdoor courtyard with its Gathering Circle and fire-vessel. The word means “there is fire.” Ishkodewan, too, will be used for special ceremonies and also function as an outdoor classroom;
* Pìdàban is the name by which the Institute for Indigenization in Room C251 on the second floor of the DARE District is known. Pìdàban – the word translates as “past, present, and future” – alludes to the natural phenomena of “daybreak,” that moment in the morning when night becomes a new day. As McLester observed, the symbolism of the word is most appropriate for a space devoted to Indigenization and social entrepreneurship; and
* The third-floor library also has a special place to serve as a repository of traditional Indigenous knowledge. The small raised platform near the circulation desk with its curving glass barrier is now known as Kejeyàdizidjigwogaming, or Knowledge Keeper’s Place. It will showcase Indigenous oration and storytelling.
Guest speaker, Anita Vandenbeld, the Liberal MP for Ottawa West-Nepean, praised the College for its leadership on Reconciliation. “Indigenous knowledge and imagery were woven throughout the design and purpose (of the DARE District),” she said. “The Indigenous courtyard shows the College is leading the way in a multi-generational turn toward Reconciliation.”
Many of these Indigenous elements were funded by $5.4 million invested by the College and its students, including $1 million from the Students’ Association.
But Monday’s event introduced other donors, too. Andy Cotnam, general manager of The Fireplace Center, was thanked for donating the gas fireplace installed in the courtyard Gathering Circle.
John Liptak, the CEO of OakWood, an award-winning Ottawa design and construction company, and a College alumnus who received the Alumni of Distinction Apprenticeship award earlier this year, was acknowledged for having provided financial support and services that helped the College keep DARE District costs down.
Joshua Salt, a Performing Arts alumnus, provided entertainment, singing a Cree love song, Saachiiweewin.
Cheryl drew special attention to the contribution from Michelle Valberg, a world-renowned photographer and a graduate of Algonquin's photography program, who donated seven large landscape and animal photographs for Nawapon’s walls – a splendid mountain vista, two Inuk drummers on the Arctic tundra, a scar-faced polar bear, and a pair of shaggy bison, among them. Valberg received an Alumni of Distinction Award in 2017.
Clearly, Indigenization is increasingly integral to College culture. As Cheryl put it: “This place, this culture, is for everyone to share, to learn from and to embrace as the path of Reconciliation.”