Photo: Kiernan Green

Ryerson Indigenizes staff lounge with Ahnoowehpeekahmik Cree name

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By Kiernan Green

Ryerson University has renamed its staff and faculty wellness lounge with an Indigenous name in response to the Truth and Reconciliation Community Consultation (TRCC) report.

The lounge, which is located in the Podium building in POD 156, is now called Ahnoowehpeekahmik—a Cree word from the Omushkego dialect meaning “a safe place to rest.”

Joanne Dallaire, an elder and traditional counselor at Ryerson, said she was nervous as she accepted a tobacco offering and spoke into the mic.

“The reason that I’m nervous is because this is important,” she told a crowd of around 30 staff and students at the lounge.

Dallaire, who was at the lounge to provide a teaching on its new name, said the name came to her while performing an Indigenous ceremony at home.

“The idea around the name was that when you walk in that door, [you feel] this is a safe place for you to be,” said Dallaire.

The TRCC report that was released by the Ryerson Equity and Community Inclusion in January 2018 outlined Ryerson’s relationship with the Indigenous community and how it could be improved for future Indigenous students and staff.

University president Mohamed Lachemi said in a statement the new name “increases Indigenous-centric space on campus” and is part of a larger plan to Indigenize more spaces on campus. Lachemi did not attend the event himself.

Renaming the lounge Ahnoowehpeekahmik has been in the works since the lounge’s renovation in 2017, said Myra Lefkowitz, manager of Ryerson’s workplace well-being services.

 

“The idea around the name was that when you walk in that door, [you feel] this is a safe place for you to be”

 

Because they work at a university, Dallaire said Ryerson staff and faculty are especially vulnerable to physical, mental, emotional and spiritual stress. “We need to really acknowledge our emotional, spiritual self,” she said.

“Sometimes the best way to do that is to be with self and to be quiet. And to follow your breath inward, and just relax,” Dallaire added.

Ahnoowehpeekahmik is the only staff lounge open to all employees of the university. As such, it is used a great deal by professors and shift workers alike, said Lefkowitz.

Jennifer Poole, an associate professor of social work who attended the teaching, said that Dallaire’s invitation for peace and spirituality has never been said on campus before. “There’s something about this place that I think professors and staff really need,” said Poole.

Dallaire said the work being done by Ryerson to implement Truth and Reconciliation at the university has been very good so far.

“There’s a whole lot of things we have to do to get things going,” she said. “But we’ve got really dedicated people, from the provost on down, committed to a lot of different committees around Truth and Reconciliation,” she said.

Following the report’s release in January 2018, Ryerson unveiled a plaque in front of Egerton Ryerson’s statue on Gould Street. The plaque outlines Egerton’s role in the racist residential school system and the school’s commitment to reconciliation.

Ryerson will also be offering an Indigenous language course beginning in winter 2019. According to Dallaire, the university has also hired a number of new Indigenous staff.

“I have learned from Joanne, that Indigenization is led by Indigenous folks. It has to be settlers following Indigenous folks and not the other way around,” said Poole.

Dallaire said students should be on the front line to educate others about cultural respect and reconciliation.

“Students think that they’re here to be educated—they’re the most powerful educators that we have,” said Dallaire.

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