York University’s Hart House renamed to create safe space for Indigenous peoples

Community members unveil the new name

At a ceremony during National Aboriginal Day at York University on June 21, Hart House was renamed Skennen’kó:wa Gamig, the House of Great Peace. And with that renaming comes the hope for further understanding and reconciliation.

The newly renovated Skennen’kó:wa Gamig will be a welcoming, safe and supportive space for Indigenous students, faculty and staff to come together in the spirit of Skennen’kó:wa (The Great Peace) to celebrate, and to share knowledge and teachings. The new name, Skennen’kó:wa Gamig, comes from both Mohawk and Anishnabe languages bringing together two of the confederacies that uphold and engage in the Dish with One Spoon Wampum territory.

Ruth Koleszar-Green and Vice-Provost Academic Alice Pitt

To Ruth Koleszar-Green, co-chair, Indigenous Council at York U, Skennen’kó:wa Gamig reminds her she has a responsibility to foster peace in the world. The house will be a place where that peace can take root through the understanding and the rebuilding of relationships.

“It’s also really important as students come to the University that they also have the opportunity to learn not only what they’re taught in their courses, but about their history and heritage. Some of those students learn about their history for the first time after coming to York U,” said Koleszar-Green. “This house provides a safe and supportive place for that learning, but it also allows for a space where Indigenous peoples can lead the conversation.”

York U’s Elder-on-Campus and Indigenous Knowledge Keeper Amy Desjarlias
York U’s Elder-on-Campus and Indigenous Knowledge Keeper Amy Desjarlais

The renaming ceremony began with a service by York U’s Elder-on-Campus and Indigenous Knowledge Keeper Amy Desjarlias, followed by a performance by Spirit Wind, a women’s hand drum group.

Gifts were presented to project supporters President Designate Rhonda Lenton, Dean of Osgoode Hall Law School Lorne Sossin and Trudy Pound-Curtis, Interim Vice-President Finance & Administration.

The ceremony included presenting of gifts and heart berries to guests. Above, Osgoode Hall Law School Dean Lorne Sossin and President-designate Rhonda Lenton are offered heart berries by Nancy Johnson, cultural program assistant, Centre for Aboriginal Student Services

“It is truly special to be able to celebrate National Aboriginal Day with the dedication of this space to York University’s Indigenous community, and with its renaming,” said President and Vice-Chancellor Mamdouh Shoukri. “Skennen’kó:wa Gamig is an important reminder of our ongoing mission to make our campuses open and collaborative places, and to honour our commitment to advance opportunities for Indigenous students across the country.”

Skennen’kó:wa Gamig is on York University’s Keele campus tucked into a forested area next to the York Tipi and Osgoode Hall Law School. The renaming is part of York University’s developing Indigenous Strategy, which includes creating spaces for Indigenous peoples, course content that explores Indigenous life, culture and tradition, and research that is relevant to Indigenous people, expected out this summer.

Unveiling the new name: Skennen’kó:wa Gamig, which comes from both Mohawk and Anishnabe languages and means the House of Great Peace

The house was owned by the Hart family until 1958 then briefly owned by Claude Passy before York University acquired it in 1964. It is on the traditional territory of several Indigenous nations, including the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, the Anishinabek Nation, the Huron-Wendat, the Metis Nations and the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation.

Earlier in the week, students from Kiiwednong Aboriginal Head Start planted hand-made hearts in the new Heart Garden at Skennen’kó:wa Gamig

Earlier in the week, students from Kiiwednong Aboriginal Head Start planted hand-made hearts in the new Heart Garden at Skennen’kó:wa Gamig, which is a Cindy Blackstock national initiative that pays tribute to children who died in residential schools. Blackstock will receive an honorary doctor of laws at York University’s June 23 convocation ceremony. She is a member of the Gitxsan First Nation and executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society.

York U will also host the North American Indigenous Games, July 16 to 23.