Members of Ryerson’s faculty and staff gathered Tuesday afternoon for the university’s first ever Indigenous naming ceremony as part of Ryerson’s ongoing work to Indigenize its campus and contribute to reconciliation.
Ahnoowehpeekahmik — pronounced ah-new-weh-peek-ah-mik, which means ‘a good place to rest’ in Cree — became the new official name of a staff and faculty well-being lounge that opened on the first floor of Ryerson’s Podium Building last February.
The naming ceremony is an example of a traditional Indigenous practice. Ryerson’s Elder Joanne Dallaire said the name of the lounge came to her after she had asked spirits during a ceremony she had at her home.
When you give spirit names to individuals or to spaces, you want to have another ceremony to thank the spirit for that sacred space, added Ryerson’s Aboriginal human resources consultant, Tracey King.
According to the university, the lounge prioritized Indigenous design elements such as cedar wood walls. Dallaire said cedar is one of four sacred medicines and can be used to clear trauma. Other Indigenous elements included photographs of water and art depicting Ryerson’s Eagle Staff — a spiritual object that was gifted to the school in recognition of its efforts to support Indigenous students.
By incorporating Indigenous design elements, and holding the first Indigenous naming ceremony, Ryerson is recognizing its Indigenous heritage within the university, Dallaire told the Ryersonian.
Recognizing Indigenous traditions and culture can help Canadian institutions reconcile with Indigenous peoples, the 2015 Truth and Reconciliation Commission report indicated.
Dallaire says the university isn’t taking action towards reconciliation “as much as we like but it’s happening.”
“People ask ‘why doesn’t it change?’ It just doesn’t work like that in a big system. There’s a whole lot of things we need to do.”
King agreed with Dallaire and said that there is definitely more the university can do.
“We need support systems because there’s very few of us still in academia, in staff and [in] faculty positions,” said King, who also goes by her Pottawatomi and Ojibway name, Essinhs Kwe, meaning Little Shell Woman.
“We need that sense of community and belonging and safety.”
Dallaire told the crowded room that working in academia is extremely demanding. “There’s a lot of competition which can create difficulties between people so you need a safe space to come and just let it out.”
“I think it’s really important to acknowledge how difficult the work of staff and faculty is,” said Jacqui Gingras, an associate professor in the faculty of sociology. Gingras said she was particularly happy to see the meditation room.
“Often from a student perspective, there may be a sense that professors have a lot of privilege and a lot of power,” she said. “Coming here is really honouring how difficult our work is in supporting students.”