The power of home: Wigwam at Halifax university aims to support Indigenous students, become place of learning
Catherine Martin and a group of Mi'kmaq elders learned how to raise the wigwam alongside expert Tony Solomon on Tuesday.
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A breeze wafted through the wigwam as the sound of drumming filled the air, the sun shining through to create a warm golden glow as people of all ages and backgrounds sipped tea and sang.
Catherine Martin, Mi’kmaw woman and Nancy’s Chair in Women's Studies at Mount Saint Vincent University, led the welcoming ceremony for the wigwam (wikuom in Mi’kmaq) on Tuesday afternoon after the traditional structure was raised on campus in a clearing near the Meadows.
“We’re the first people, and we’re trying to bring back and reclaim our ways. In a home is where it begins, in everybody’s home,” Martin said before the ceremony that saw Mi’kmaq elders, MSVU staff, and instructor Tony Solomon of Mukwa Teepees sing together, hold a smudging, and share traditional corn soup.
All Nancy’s Chairs are expected to hold a workshop or conference, but Martin said over the last two years she’d struggled to find the perfect event until the idea of raising a wigwam came to her. It can be used in any weather and handle firepits.
Also, Martin said she knew the idea fit with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) recommendation that universities include spaces for Indigenous students and staff to hold ceremonies, smudging, talking circles, and other events.
While Martin said some people have teepees in Halifax and N.S., which is the name for an Indigenous western home, as far as she knows this is the first Mi’kmaq wigwam on a university campus.
Besides being used for events and workshops around MSVU and the city, Martin said Indigenous students will also be able to simply relax and de-stress in the wigwam “which is huge.”
“I want more Indigenous students to come here, even if they want to go somewhere else after. This is where they should begin and find their grounding,” Martin said about the Mount.
“I want them to feel at home, and this wigwam tells them ‘We’re serious.’”
The wigwam is a welcoming place for all students, especially international ones who Martin said love to learn about Indigenous culture.
“It helps them to feel less homesick when they come around us, which is probably something for everyone to think about: why are the new peoples coming here more attracted to the first people and our ways? Our drumming, our smudging, our ceremony, our writing relations where we talk to you,” she said.
The wigwam will hopefully operate as a teaching space, Martin said, where faculty or other educators can come learn about teaching Indigenous youth and culture.
In light of the recent talk around cultural appropriation, and trying to move away from non-Indigenous people teaching Indigenous culture, Martin said it’s important to keep faculty and staff diversifying.
“We’re getting our training, we’re getting our degrees. The universities need to make room for us to do it our way,” Martin said.
“What this means is just a little beginning here.”