Students, faculty, staff, and distinguished guests gathered for the official opening of Maanjiwe Nendamowinan (MN) last Friday, with the conversations of indigenization, reconciliation, and partnership being held throughout the Grand Hall.
In 2015, the University of Toronto Mississauga (UTM) announced its plans to demolish and completely rebuild the North building. According to UTM principal and vice-president Ian Orchard, the North building served the campus since the mid-1960s as the “academic home to our first students, staff, and faculty in 1967.”
While the North building was supposed to be temporary, it stood for a little more than half a century. In its place now stands a 210,000-square-foot, six-storey building featuring a plethora of study spaces, open areas, and collaborative and experiential learning classrooms. The building is now home to many social sciences and humanities departments, as well as centres like the Robert Gillespie Academic Skills Centre.
Among the attendees were prominent figures from the University of Toronto (U of T) and the city including U of T President Meric Gertler, Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation Chief Stacey Laforme, Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie, President of UTM’s Alumni Association Ziyaad Vahed, Vice Chair of the U of T governing council Jane Pepino, and U of T Chancellor Rose Patten.
Customary of most UTM ceremonies, the official opening of MN began with an acknowledgement of the land on which the campus was built. “For thousands of years it has been the traditional land of the Huron-Wendat, the Seneca, and the Mississaugas of the Credit River,” said Orchard.
Elder Gary Sue, a First Nations elder, conducted a drum song where he called on the ancestors. After his drum song, and an attempt to coax the audience to join in with him, he advised that in the acknowledgement of the First Nations people, they include the names of the treaty holders so the children understand “who they’re supposed to deal with when it comes to treaty rights and the land that’s here.”
Elder Sue continued to say that while acknowledgement is good, detailing who the land holders are is also needed.
Then, Orchard launched into the ceremony by describing the building’s history and recognizing the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation’s contribution to the establishment of the building’s name. Orchard stated that the “campus renewal builds on our commitment to innovation and excellence as well as UTM’s focus on developing more experiential learning opportunities for our students, while also broadening our research efforts.”
One attendee, Simone Laughton, the head of the Library & Instructional Technologies at UTM, told The Medium that she was ecstatic that they had the guidance of the Mississaugas throughout the process, and she is excited for the future opportunities to learn and grow.
With the acknowledgement of the indigenous land on which our university stands, the speakers all touched on the ways we can continue to grow as a university in a way that honours our roots and focuses on innovation and growth.
Bonnie Crombie stressed the importance of unity between the City of Mississauga and UTM. She highlighted the picturesque nature of the campus. In her speech, she stated that the future of the city and the university are “deeply intertwined which is why” she believes “an investment in education is an investment in city building.”
Likewise, Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation Chief Stacey Laforme spoke about the alliance between the city of Mississauga and the Mississaugas first nations. Laforme said it is a history “we need to continue to honour.” As a symbol of this alliance, Laforme stated, “it seems fitting we name this building in Anishinaabemowin as we continue on our journey.”
Although many of the speeches intersected, to each speaker, the name of the building meant something different. Meric Gertler focused on the idea of “coming together to exchange ideas in a search for truth” — the epitome of education, he said.
Borrowing the cliche, “we are better together,” Mayor Crombie summed up the importance of acknowledging our past while “building a more environmentally sustainable future that will provide generations with a place to come together for a challenging yet deeply rewarding [education].”
However, Gertler also acknowledged that to become stronger, people must be willing to engage and be “open to new or previously neglected voices.”
Gertler confessed that “for the better part of two centuries, indigenous culture was given very little visibility at this university.” The naming of the building using an indigenous name is one of the steps the university is taking towards indigenizing “new and existing spaces to make our campus more accessible, more welcoming, and more meaningful to our indigenous community members.”
Ian Orchard said in his speech that it was “unanimously recommended that an indigenous name be considered which led to a collaboration between the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation who proposed the name.”
Laforme reminded the audience to remember the name and its significance, “otherwise you might as well have named it Bob.”
Throughout the afternoon, many speakers hesitated before pronouncing the Anishinaabemowin name. An email was sent out to students earlier this year with the phonetic pronunciation and the university also published a video on YouTube with the proper pronunciation.
At one point during the ceremony, Laforme asked Kathy, an audience member, to teach the attendees the pronunciation. Still, some VIP members struggled to say the name.
During the final remarks, U of T Chancellor Rose Patten started her speech with humour and trepidation. “Let me first add my thanks to the Mississaugas of the First Nations for honouring us with the name, and I don’t get away with it either, so here we go…”
As she attempted the first half of the name, stumbling over the syllables, Elder Sue chimed in from the audience with the correct pronunciation. Patten repeated the first part, but stopped after that, saying, “thanks, chief.”
Laughter could be heard from where first nations people were seated. “You demoted me,” Elder Sue replied.
Part of the significance of Maanjiwe Nendamowinan’s name is its meaning, “Gathering of Minds,” which all the speakers touched on.
“We must always remember the real reason we gather—to do the right thing for our people, our children, and our future,” said Laforme.