(Camrose, AB) – Wahkohtowin Lodge, a gathering place for Aboriginal students at the University of Alberta’s Augustana Campus, has officially opened, offering a space where Indigenous students are supported and their cultures celebrated.
Wahkohtowin Lodge provides Augustana’s Métis, Inuit and First Nations students from near and far a welcoming space where they can connect with one another, draw support from visiting Elders and Indigenous community members, and share their diverse cultures with the campus and community.
“Wahkohtowin Lodge is especially exciting for Augustana Campus because it furthers our commitment to serving Indigenous students and to honouring the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission,” said Allen Berger, dean of the campus.
“As a comfortable space where Indigenous students can informally gather or meet with Elders and university staff, and as a space that will support programs designed to engage the entire campus and larger community, Wahkohtowin Lodge symbolizes a way to move forward in greater understanding of Indigenous cultures.”
Located in the Forum Building at the heart of Augustana Campus in Camrose, the lodge was created in the spirit of wahkohtowin, a Nehiyaw (Plains Cree) concept meaning “kinship.” The term refers to the ties of mutuality and reciprocity that create responsibilities to other human beings, animals and the land. With its tree trunk wall, tipi-shaped ceiling feature and fibre optic stars, Wahkohtowin Lodge was designed to reflect the cultures of Indigenous students and at the same time provide a basis for reconciliation by making it possible for non-Indigenous students, faculty and staff to learn about these cultures.
“Students succeed best when they feel a deep and abiding bond with their peers, their professors, and ultimately, their campus. As a community, it is our responsibility to create the opportunities that will form and nurture these connections—the university must be a place that fosters a sense of belonging,” said David Turpin, president of the University of Alberta. “The grand opening of Wahkohtowin Lodge is just one example of how our response to the TRC’s calls to action will demonstrate our commitment to meeting these needs for our First Nations, Inuit and Métis students.”
The creation of Wahkohtowin Lodge included working closely with Aboriginal students and Elders from the nearby community of Maskwacis and other Indigenous communities. The incorporation of Nehiyaw language through the lodge’s name acknowledges that Augustana Campus is situated on the traditional territory of the Nehiyaw and the proximity to the Ermineskin, Samson, Montana and Louis Bull First Nations in Maskwacis.
“I am especially grateful to our own Aboriginal students and to the many Elders who participated in planning Wahkohtowin Lodge,” Berger said. “Their visions for needed programming and student services and their advice on design and the incorporation of appropriate cultural elements guided us every step of the way.”
Wahkohtowin Lodge is decorated with paintings from Inuit and local Indigenous artists as well as those from neighbouring Treaty 6, 7 and 8 territories. It houses an Aboriginal Student Services Office as well as a private room where students and Elders can visit, programming space for campus and community events, a small meeting room and study space for Aboriginal students. The space will also host future workshops exploring the Truth and Reconciliation recommendations.
The first dedicated space of its kind for Augustana’s ever-growing population of Indigenous students, Wahkohtowin Lodge also serves a student body of all nationalities, said Jérôme Melançon, chair of the Aboriginal Engagement Committee, Augustana Campus.
“The space encourages reflection and contemplation about the Treaty 6 territory where Augustana Campus is located and about the relationships we create here with Indigenous peoples and all other groups. We have built Wahkohtowin Lodge in the spirit of honouring the relationships that bind us together as a campus,” Melançon added.
Read more about Wahkohtowin Lodge here.