York unveils its own tipi, a place to learn and foster awareness

TipiOpeningGathered around a small, smoky fire inside the newest addition to the York landscape, members of the University’s Indigenous community and administration officially unveiled the York Tipi. Standing among tall trees outside of Osgoode Hall Law School, next to Hart House, the tipi is a reminder that the University sits on traditional Ojibway land.

Elder Garry Sault began with a traditional song to welcome Aboriginal ancestors to witness the opening proceedings as guests took part in a smudging ceremony and the sweet smell of burning sage filled the small space.

The newly unveiled York Tipi

“This is an incredible opportunity and learning experience, especially for our aboriginal community,” says Mamdouh Shoukri, president & vice-chancellor. “Our role is to encourage dialogue and the sharing of ideas and research between students, academics and other stakeholders in order to better understand and respond to some of the most pressing challenges facing society today. This tipi provides an excellent forum in which to do just that.”

TipiBryanLaFormeMamdouhShoukriFrom left, Bryan LaForme, chief of the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation, and Mamdouh Shoukri, president & vice-chancellor, inside the York Tipi during the unveiling ceremony

At York, there are more than 60,000 students, faculty and staff from many diverse backgrounds. “It’s a struggle every day for our Indigenous students to be a part of such a large umbrella because we are often the most marginalized of the marginalized,” said Janine Manning, president of the Aboriginal Students’ Association at York (ASAY). “So this is going to create a space where people can learn from us, but we can also learn about ourselves in a safe place.”

As Chief Bryan LaForme of the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation said, “At one time in our community, we didn’t have any speakers. The main reason was the residential school legislation that legislated that they take the Indian out of the child.” Slowly, “we’re trying to revive our language and our culture,” he said. The new tipi will help.

It will create opportunities for the future, said Randy Pitawanakwat, coordinator of the Centre for Aboriginal Student Services, at the gathering. “It creates a visual presence of the York Aboriginal community with opportunities to provide a learning environment for the whole University in general.” It will “foster an awareness and understanding of the history and culture of Aboriginal TipiJanineManningBryanLaFormePeoples.”

From left, Janine Manning, president of the Aboriginal Students’ Association at York, and Bryan LaForme

The tipi is the culmination of Faculty of Environmental Studies Professor Robin Cavanagh’s dissertation, with the goal of creating a space embraced and supported by the community both inside and outside of York.

The outside of the tipi carries the logo of the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation, which LaForme said “warms his heart” to see, as well as that of the Aboriginal Students’ Association TipiGarySaultat York. The York and Osgoode Indigenous Students Association (OISA) logos are also on the tipi, which Ashley Stacey, president of OISA, said is pretty awesome to see from the law school library.

Elder Garry Sault prepares the sage for the smudging ceremony at the beginning of the unveiling

“This is a great example of what York does exceptionally well,” said Janet Morrison, vice-provost students. It brings students, staff and faculty together to accomplish a goal.