Carleton University’s Aboriginal student lounge is called, ‘Ojigkwanong.’ The word Ojigkwanong means “Morning Star” in Algonquin. The name fits right in with the mission of the centre itself, which is to create a feeling of home and community on campus for Carleton’s Aboriginal students and faculty. The space was a project put forward by Carleton’s Centre for Aboriginal Culture and Education (CACE). It was named in 2013 after a group of students, faculty, and other staff members made their way to Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg, a reserve in Québec. There, they requested the help of several Elders. CACE sought a name that would proudly grace the centre, designed by Aboriginal architect Douglas Cardinal, which was under construction at the time. After much contemplation CACE’s website states that, “Peter Decontie pulled out a piece of paper from his pocket. He read out the name: ‘Ojigkwanong.’ Ojigkwanong, which means “morning star,” was the late Grandfather William Commanda’s Anishinabe name.” Happily, CACE embraced the name and imbued it with fresh purpose and life as they attached it to their project. To the centre, the name signalled a new beginning for all of the programs at Carleton, with Ojigkwanong they planned to hold bigger, better, and more comprehensive events for students and staff.
Mallory Whiteduck and Naomi Sarazin, two of the three main staff members at CACE, work as Aboriginal Cultural Liaison Officers, which means they were active and present throughout the construction of the Ojigkwanong Centre. Mallory mused about how the space CACE used was, “[so] small it could barely fit more than a few people.” This was a problem that resulted in the CACE team getting creative about where they could hold events. When asked about the type of events Ojigkwanong now holds, Naomi mentioned the Manitobah Mukluks Storyboot School. This is an event where participants create mukluks in order to keep traditional methods of craftsmanship alive among younger generations. It was a popular event that drew a good crowd to the centre where fun was had by all. Naomi stated that, “[Ojigkwanong] does not have a theme per-say,” but that each new semester is cause for a revaluation of the centre and what it offers for students, staff, and faculty. Each new crop of students has different needs. The centre seeks to respond to all of them in turn.
Both Mallory and Naomi are looking forward to future events at the Ojigkwanong Centre. The success of the past few years has them excited about what CACE and Ojigkwanong could accomplish within the next five years. Some of Mallory’s favourite memories of working with CACE include the Convocations of students who have been with CACE since its inception. Those students have also been witness to CACE’s evolution, which makes both women extremely proud. Naomi talked about how she can still remember when she first came to the university and CACE was fighting to be heard, to have space, and to operate. Most of those challenges have long since passed though, Naomi said. “We’re a part of the community here at Carleton,” she added while Mallory nodded in agreement. And Ojigkwanong is part of that community too. It is a second home for many Aboriginal students and staff on campus and it will continue to be the symbol of a bright future for everyone involved in the CACE community.
Sam Lehman is a freelance writer and blogger who currently lives, works and dreams in Ottawa. She wonders about the big, wide world while she sits in the Humanities lounge at Carleton University editing essays, researching masters programs, chatting with friends, planning events, and living her life in a way that brings her contentment. You can keep up with her adventures on her personal blog: http://seekeachlight.com or follow her on Twitter @SeekEachLight.