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LU indigenous centre 'a place to gather with dignity'

When Crystal Kimewon started her studies in indigenous social work at Laurentian University, she didn't feel very welcome.
Laurentian University president Dominic Giroux helps elder Cheryle Patridge (left) and Laurentian associate vice-president of academic and indigenous programs Sheila Cote-Meek break ground on the university's Indigenous Sharing and Learning Centre Oct. 22. Photo by Heidi Ulrichsen.
When Crystal Kimewon started her studies in indigenous social work at Laurentian University, she didn't feel very welcome.

She didn't see many other aboriginals, and the only indigenous services on campus were “tucked away up a flight of stairs, and down a winding hallway.” Other students harboured misconceptions about her culture.

“I began to feel weighed down, with a heaviness upon my shoulders,” said Kimewon, who's now in her fourth year of studies.

“I was tired, and found myself in tears at the end of a long day of classes. I found an elder on campus tucked away in a tiny room down the hallway.

"It was in this small place that I was able to receive the guidance I needed as an indigenous student. It was in this place that I was able to plant my roots and begin to flourish within the university.”

Kimewon, who's president of the university's indigenous student circle, was invited to speak at the groundbreaking for the Laurentian's Indigenous Sharing and Learning Centre Oct. 22.

The $3.4 million centre, which will host everything from public lectures to student support programs to social spaces, is being constructed in what's now a parking lot in front of the Parker Building.

“What does the indigenous sharing and learning centre mean to me as an indigenous student?” said Kimewon.

“It means connection, acceptance, respect, inclusion, collaboration, learning and thriving, just to name a few.

“It means indigenous students will be able to gather with dignity and pride, in a place where we can seek the counsel of our elders freely and openly, a place large enough to accommodate our fellow non-indigenous students who are open to understanding more about the indigenous peoples, our history and our stories.”

Construction on the 7,500 square foot centre is set to begin within the next couple of weeks, with completion expected in the late fall of 2016 or early winter of 2017. Its design is circular, in a nod to the traditional wigwams of aboriginal people living in this area.

The facility, designed by Diamond Schmitt Architects and being built by Cy Rheault Construction, is just one part of a large-scale overhaul of Laurentian's infrastructure taking place over the next few years.

The building is financed in part by large corporate donations — $1 million from Glencore and $400,000 from RBC.

“The Indigenous Sharing and Learning Centre will be a physical symbol of the university's commitment to indigenous peoples and indigenous education,” said Laurentian University president Dominic Giroux.

“It will be a reminder to all those who work and study here and who visit the campus that Laurentian is on the traditional territory of the Atikameksheng Anishnawbek people.

“It's a reminder and a concrete symbol of our respect for indigenous teachings and for the First Nations, Metis and Inuit people of our region and of our country.”