“What a beautiful day to celebrate,” said Dean Sayers, Batchewana First Nation chief.
Shingwauk Kinoomaage Gamig - a new Indigenous post-secondary institution - officially opened on Friday at its Queen Street East location across from Algoma University, the site of the former Shingwauk Indian Residential School.
Indigenous and non-Indigenous elected leaders, educators, students and the general public - including some Shingwauk Indian Residential School survivors - gathered for the occasion.
“Today is not only about us and the work that we’ve done to see this beautiful grand opening of Shingwauk Kinoomaage Gamig, it’s also reflecting on and thanking our ancestors, Chief Shingwauk and all of the historic leadership that had the vision of a teaching lodge,” said Sayers, who is SKG board chair.
“Through the tribulation of the last 200 years we’ve been able to navigate through this system and have this beautiful place where an Indigenous view can be shared with not only our people but people from around the world in regards to post-secondary education through an Indigenous lens.”
“That’s so important. There are so many things that are missing within the mainstream education systems and we’ll fill those gaps here,” Sayers said.
It’s a comfortable place for our people. It’s pretty exciting. It’s pretty nice to be a part of it.”
SKG is one of nine Indigenous post-secondary educational institutes in the province of Ontario.
“I think today is very meaningful because this is an Indigenous institute that’s recognized in Ontario as a place for Indigenous learners to come and be connected to their culture, the land and their language again, and the fact that this happened today is important because it’s Truth and Reconciliation Day, a day to acknowledge the impact that Indian Residential Schools have had on the Indigenous people and their families,” said Lauren Doxtater, SKG director of academics.
“Our children were placed in situations where they were forced to learn another way of living that wasn’t how we were raised and taught and how we lived our lives. We were forced to come to schools like the one across the street to learn Western ways, so the fact that there’s an Indigenous institute right here in Sault Ste. Marie where we can place a foundation on what was taken away is something that’s really important to give back to the Indigenous learner.”
SKG currently offers two three-year degree programs in partnership with Algoma University - one in Anishinaabe Studies, the other in Nishnaabemwin Language Studies.
In 2017, Ontario’s Indigenous Institutes Act came into effect, allowing post-secondary institutions such as SKG to go through its own accreditation process.
Once that is achieved, SKG will be granted authority to issue its own degrees.
Doxtater said it was gratifying - on a recent walkabout through SKG - to see its staff taking Huron-Superior Catholic District School Board teachers on a tour of the building and medicine garden while other staff members delivered mental health first aid training to students.
“I thought ‘this is what this place is meant to do,’ to teach, educate about our culture to other people, to help students gain skills and knowledge and giving them the tools they need to be successful.”
There will be more degree and course offerings at SKG as time goes by, Doxtator said.
SKG currently has 18 students enrolled in its degree programs, another 265 taking individual courses as electives for programs at Algoma University.
“It’s a good start for only having two degree programs so far,” Doxtator said.
Friday’s official opening of SKG included a sunrise ceremony and water ceremony, a continental breakfast for guests, an honour song by Bear Creek and speeches from several elected Indigenous and non-Indigenous leaders.
The public was welcome to tour SKG’s interior - including its archives - as well as learn at a sacred medicine garden.
A full day of panel discussions and workshops, a blanket exercise, honour songs and jingle dress healing were scheduled for Friday’s opening at SKG.