A new structure on Brock University’s main campus will soon be home to a variety of Indigenous teaching and learning opportunities.
Thanks to a gift from the Niagara Peninsula Aboriginal Area Management Board (NPAAMB), a teaching lodge has been built in an open area behind Schmon Tower on the edge of the Niagara Escarpment.
Similar to teaching lodges built by NPAAMB in two locations on the Six Nations of the Grand River Reserve and one at the Niagara Regional Native Centre, the lodge at Brock will be used for an array of activities, including Indigenous language teaching and a quiet space for healing.
Aboriginal Student Services (AbSS) Director Sandra Wong said the lodge serves as a reminder of the University’s commitment to its Indigenous community members.
“It means that we as Indigenous staff, faculty and students can walk past it and know that our ways of knowing are being valued and respected at the institution and that others are open to learning about those ways of knowing,” she said.
While highlighting the importance of the lodge’s contribution to the University’s strategic priority of reconciliation and decolonization, Brock’s Acting Vice-Provost, Indigenous Engagement Robyn Bourgeois said the building of the lodge also provoked a more personal reaction.
“As an Indigenous person, there’s something you feel in your heart when you see one of our traditional structures being erected,” she said. “It’s like being called home. Even though it’s just the frame, you can imagine the incredible knowledge that will be shared and the ceremonies that will be held in that structure. It’s beautiful, and we are so humbled and honoured to have been chosen as a recipient of this remarkable gift.”
Brock is the only university that has received a teaching lodge from NPAAMB.
To build the lodge, a team of youth from NPAAMB’s Naabidisiwin program (an Anishinabek word, which means ‘I have a purpose’) spent several days assembling the structure at the beginning of May.
Aimed at helping urban Indigenous youth to reconnect with their culture, find their purpose and learn about apprenticeships, the program saw participants complete six weeks of cultural training, two weeks of technological training and four weeks of healing and teaching, which included assembling the lodge at Brock.
Kim Rogers, NPAAMB’s Naabidisiwin Coach/Mentor said the building process helped those in the program to reconnect with their heritage, traditional rites and ceremonies to build upon their identity.
“The land-based learning of how to build a lodge combined with traditional teachings and practices clearly solidified that connection to the past, present and future of our Indigenous Peoples,” she said. “This is where I saw each youth blossom in their ways of being, seeing and understanding that we are part of a universal web, no greater than any one part.”
Wong said receiving the lodge as a gift from a community partner was a testament to Brock’s ongoing efforts to be a welcoming and inclusive space for Indigenous students.
“That speaks tremendously to how the community sees the benefits of helping our Brock students with their mental wellness,” she said. “I think that’s important because relationships like the one we have with NPAAMB and others have put us in the position where we can provide these resources.”
NPAAMB Skills and Partnership Fund Manager Brandi Jonathan said Brock was selected to receive the teaching lodge for a variety of reasons.
“Brock was chosen by NPAAMB to be a partner and gifted a traditional teaching lodge as we have built a strong partnership with the University through Sandra Wong and the Aboriginal Student Services department,” she said. “We have a very similar vision, and that’s to support one another, in order to continue to build our Indigenous communities, resources and opportunities for learning. For NPAAMB, this was the perfect opportunity to share and promote Indigenous culture with a supportive community partner that we know will continue to carry the importance of Indigenous learning well into the future.
“It was very important for us to select partners who understand what reconciliation means and that we can see are making a conscious effort and taking steps towards that,” she said.
Rogers hopes the lodge will be as transformative for those who use it going forward as it was for the students who built it.
“This final stage to our program was extremely rewarding and essential to personal growth,” she said. “I encourage Brock youth and staff, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous, to use this gift of a teaching lodge for building a kinship to the natural world and realizing who they are.”
As plans are put in place for Aboriginal Student Services to care for the lodge and to develop policies to ensure it is used appropriately, all partners involved are eagerly anticipating a time when health guidelines allow for them to gather together in person for a ceremony to formally receive the gift.
“It’s an amazing gift and our Aboriginal Education Council and Two Row Council are thrilled,” said Wong. “We want all of our Indigenous community members to feel that they are a part of the University and that it is inclusive of their culture. The teaching lodge will help them see that.”