Indigenous lounge a sanctuary

By Geoff Lee

January 24, 2018 12:33 PM

There were plenty of photographs taken of students and invited guests inside the new Indigenous Student Lounge that opened at the Lloydminster campus of Lakeland College on Jan. 18. GEOFF LEE LLS PHOTO

The new Indigenous Student Lounge at the Lloydminster campus of Lakeland College will enable Metis and First Nations students to stay connected with their spiritual and cultural roots.
The lounge has a circular seating area for up to 44 people, as well as a smudging area and asiniy (rock) shelf for spiritual practices and other symbols of Indigenous peoples.
“When the students walk in they’ll feel like they’re in their community, their home,” said guest speaker Milton Tootoosis, a headman with Poundmaker Cree Nation.
“Most of them likely grew up as younger people in their communities surrounded by these symbols, the smells of the sweetgrass, the sage when they have their pipe ceremonies in here and so on.”
Lakeland officially opened the lounge Friday following a smudging ceremony to create a ‘cleansing smoke bath’ that is used to purify a ceremonial or ritual space.
The asiniy area will be made of asinisisak (smaller rocks) that students will bring from their communities to create a sense of home when they enter the lounge.
“Spirituality is what drives the Indigenous culture—the belief is that all things are connected between oneself, creation, Mother Earth and the Creator,” said Clint Chocan, Indigenous student support specialist.
Part of his role at Lakeland is to guide Indigenous students to meet their educational goals.
The Indigenous lounge will be utilized as a place for lounging, meetings and studying, and is equipped with a SMART Board and a digital display for presentations.
More importantly, the new space provides a place for Indigenous students to share and learn more about their identity, culture and history and practise spiritual customs.
The lounge houses the newly developed Elders-in-Residence program.
Elders will visit the campus to connect and cultivate meaningful relationships with college students in an effort to enhance their educational experience.
“When they bring in the resident elder, I think it’s going to be a huge bonus because many of us grew up around elders, our grandparents, and the values have been passed on through them to us,” said Tootoois.
“In many cases the language has been passed down through the grandparents.”
The ribbon cutting involved two Metis elders and a First Nations elder among many local and regional dignitaries on hand.
Tootoois said when he was a student at Saskatchewan Indian Federated College, now called the First Nations University of Canada at the University of Regina, they had a similar facility for the Indigenous students that he could go to when times were tough.
“I really believe had it not be for the Indigenous centre resource we had in Regina, I may not have gotten through some of the hard times I had as a student,” he said.
“It’s very stressful being away from home your grandparents, your parents and immediate family—it is very challenging—I think it saved my life.
Following the ribbon cutting, Ian Crate, an Indigenous business administration student performed an honour song inside the circular seating area of the lounge.

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