The Centre for Aboriginal Student Services changes its name to the Centre for Indigenous Student Services

CISS welcome area FEATURED image
CISS welcome area FEATURED image

As we celebrate National Indigenous History Month, the time is right to officially announce the name change of the Centre for Aboriginal Student Services (CASS) to the Centre for Indigenous Student Services (CISS).

Randy Pitawanakwat
Randy Pitawanakwat

The voice of Indigenous students at York University was instrumental in securing a position to support Indigenous student success. In 2002, the first Aboriginal Counsellor, Randy Pitawanakwat, was appointed and over time this position grew. As part of this growth, a gathering space was created for Indigenous students to use to support one another and share laughter, food and community.

As part of this important announcement, the centre’s staff is sharing a story of the naming of the student gathering space within CISS.

The story of a name: Animikiig Waziswan/Thunderbirds’ Nest

The Thunderbird
The Thunderbird by artist Jay Bell Redbird. Image courtesy CISS

In Anishinaabeg communities, children and youth are seen as precious gifts from Gzhe Manidoo (Creator). For parents and community members, it is said that our children are our teachers. By including their voices, we ensure they can help guide our communities forward.

The Indigenous student space is grounded in community responsibilities. In 2010, Pitawanakwat approached local Toronto artist Jay Bell Redbird (who has passed on to the Spirit World), to design an image based on the Thunderbird to be carved into the wooden sliding doors leading into the student gathering space.

In 2019, Indigenous students held a vote to name the student gathering space in CISS – collectively, they chose the “Thunderbird Room.” As with this name, it is important that the voices of the students continue to inform and guide the direction of the work that happens at the centre. The name was translated into Anishinaabemowin (Ojibway language), adding the word “nest” to illustrate the safety, growth, love, and nurturing students need while they grow into the people who will one day lead our communities.

The Thunderbird story is an important piece of Anishinaabe culture. It is said that the Thunderbirds were once grandfathers in our communities whose teachings were once disregarded and abandoned by their communities. These beings so full of anger, bitterness, and resentment would terrorize their communities with loud rumbling and crashing thunder. Today, it is said that showing respect to the Thunderbirds by offering tobacco and giving thanks and gratitude when they appear from the west, helps them to know their presence is honoured and cherished.

The Centre for Indigenous Student Services
The Centre for Indigenous Student Services, Animikiig Waziswan/Thunderbirds’ Nest, is a gathering space for Indigenous students and their families. Pictured above is the centre’s welcome area

Animikiig Waziswan/Thunderbirds’ Nest – is a reminder to Indigenous students and their families that this gathering space is their home away from home, the place where they can learn and explore their Indigeneity, and where they can build lasting relationships that are grounded in responsibility, reciprocity, love, and respect. Animikiig Waziswan will guide them to recognize that their presence and voices at York University are honoured and cherished.

The centre staff thanks Maya Chacaby, assistant professor at Glendon, who assisted with the Anishinaabemowin translation and to Knowledge Keeper Amy Desjarlais for sharing the Thunderbird story.