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New space for the Indigenous community at UofO, a necessary addition!  – The rotunda

New space for the Indigenous community at UofO, a necessary addition! – The rotunda

Visual credit: Courtesy – University of Ottawa

Article by Daphne Maud LaRose — Journalist

According to a Statistics Canada report, sharing The number of Indigenous people in post-secondary education is affected by economic and geographic difficulties. Some programs like Nidgnawendajanag, created to facilitate their access to higher education by covering part of university fees and accommodation costs. This Indigenous living and learning community will launch in September 2024 at the University of Ottawa (U of O).

Darren Sutherland, Aboriginal Community Engagement Officer, defines this living and learning community as a place that aims to support specific areas of study and create a sense of community. He says this space will provide cultural events and great support for its residents. According to U of O, space Nidgnawendajanag It will be located inside the Thompson residence.

The university was made possible by a $500,000 donation over five years from the U of O Alumni Association, explains Quanah Travis, vice president for finance and former director of the Indigenous Student Union. The latter stipulates that $90,000 will be allocated each year for scholarships allocated to students residing in the community. It is reported that $10,000 will be invested annually in creating cultural programs for indigenous people.

– Taking care of the community's needs

“Many Indigenous students express a desire to learn more about their cultures [et celles des autres] “When they pursue post-secondary studies, so we are very excited to direct this project,” says the Indigenous Community Engagement Officer. The goal is “to help members of the First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities on campus develop a sense of belonging, an important step toward reconciliation,” Uof says.

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Travis notes that the dropout rate is higher among Indigenous students. “Their community is such an important aspect of their education that moving them from there to attend a post-secondary institution is often detrimental to their success,” he says. The former principal reveals that he met on several occasions with first-year Indigenous students from different programmes, ages and backgrounds who ended up leaving the following year. “That's why I'm excited that, with a little luck, we can change the experiences of some Indigenous students,” he says.

There are already some related to and centers such as the Indigenous Resource Centre Mishkawaziogamij, which can provide that sense of belonging, but Travis sees this new space as the next step. According to him, it is about embodying a sense of community in order to create a place where “indigenous students in vulnerable situations” can find each other, meet and support each other.

An ambitious but confident start

Sutherland states that this project would not have been possible without the work of many people. “We learned how much work goes into designing a living, learning community and how it works,” he says.

The community space was supposed to open its doors in September 2023, explains the VP of Finance, but very few applications were submitted. He points out that the project had just been completed, so there was not enough time to announce. The Aboriginal Community Engagement Officer reports that the launch will take place in September 2024. It is stated that 26 places will be provided for Aboriginal students.

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Travis believes this availability is excellent for opening the Nidjìnawendàganag project. “I think it's a bit ambitious, but I have hope that it will be complete[à l’avenir]”, he expresses. Sutherland explains that if the volume of requests “requires” that UofA consider additional space, the university “absolutely” will do so.

Both speakers hope the Nidjìnawendàganag space will become an important part of the campus community. Registration for this space will open on March 26, 2024.