The University of Lethbridge officially opened the new temporary location for its First Nations, Métis and Inuit Gathering Place on Thursday, Dec. 4, the first step in the creation of a permanent home for the space.
In September 2011, University of Lethbridge President Dr. Mike Mahon asked professor Leroy Little Bear, Roy Weasel Fat (Red Crow Community College President) and Dr. Jane O’Dea to develop an overarching strategy that would create support for FNMI students, faculty, staff and community members at the University of Lethbridge. The resulting report identified the need for an FNMI Gathering Place on campus, which is being officially opened today.
The FNMI Gathering Place will call the Paterson Centre home until a permanent location is created as part of phase two of the Destination Project, the revitalization of University Hall. On Thursday, the centre was officially given its Blackfoot name of Iikaisskini, meaning Low Horn, to represent the stance of a charging buffalo, its head down and horns low to the ground.
“Our campus is located in the heart of Blackfoot territory, and as such, we are ‘Itaohkanao’pi’, the meeting place,” says University of Lethbridge President and Vice-Provost Dr. Mike Mahon. “We are committed to creating a welcoming and inclusive environment for everyone on campus and it is important to respect and celebrate our Blackfoot culture and heritage.”
The FNMI Gathering Place is an integral and unique feature of the University of Lethbridge campus. It is designed asa welcoming home away from home, a space appropriate for ceremony, smudging and celebration, where students and other members of the university community can gather together and collaboratively support one another in their educational aspirations.
“In keeping with First Nations tradition, the Gathering Place will acknowledge, respect and honour the values, history, customs and culture of the Blackfoot speaking nations on whose territorial lands the University of Lethbridge resides,” says Dr. Judith Lapadat, the University’s associate vice-president (students). “But it will be open and welcoming to everyone, asking them to respect the protocols of the territory while honouring the diversity of values and beliefs among Aboriginal communities.”
For students, the gathering place will provide a place to meet with Elders and share stories, teaching and wisdom. It will be a vibrant and empowering cultural community, where Blackfoot and other Aboriginal languages can be spoken, and where students can explore new knowledge together.
“Within the broader academic community, the Gathering Place will play an important educational role by fostering appreciation and respect for FNMI heritage throughout the university and beyond,” adds Mahon. “It will be open and welcoming to all members of the University and broader southern Alberta community.”