University of Toronto Scarborough campus to build new Indigenous House

Nov 20 2020, 11:33 am

The University of Toronto is set to build a new Indigenous House for students and faculty on the Scarborough campus.

First discussed in 2014, the university decided to create this new campus hub to provide opportunities for Indigenous students and to respond to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC).

Construction is set to begin in the summer of 2021 and finish in 2022.

Amenities include a variety of services such as a community kitchen, a student lounge, a library, a multi-purpose room, and offices for elders, faculty, and staff. The second floor will include a meeting space.

Entrance to the new Indigenous House. (Rendering courtesy of UofT)

Additionally, the two-storey, 10,700-sq-ft building will be placed on a gradual sloping piece of land, offering a view of the surrounding Highland Creek ravine.

While there is an Indigenous House on the St. George Campus, creating this expanded facility has been needed for some time.

Wisdom Tettey, the vice president of UofT and principal of UofT Scarborough, told Daily Hive that the space was created in response to the calls to action in the TRC.

“The University is dedicated to implementing calls to action, in response to the TRC, and intent of reconciliation as a fundamental value of our campus community. Central to UTSC’s strategic plan, is ensuring our campus allows for sincere engagement with knowledge systems and experiences of our diverse communities, ensuring that inclusion and accessibility are core prerequisites for realizing this,” he said.

“It will also help foster partnerships and reconciliation with Indigenous communities based on equity, reciprocity, mutual trust, understanding, and respect. It will be an informative space for non-Indigenous students, staff and faculty to get to know and understand Indigenous history, culture and ways of knowing.”

Inside the Indigenous House. (Rendering courtesy of UofT)

According to Tettey, the Indigenous House will have a large gathering room that opens out into a garden that will include birch trees and native plants, which have cultural significance to local Indigenous communities.

Additionally, traditional plants and heat detectors will be in place instead of smoke alarms to accommodate smudging. The surrounding landscape will expand the reach of programming and activities within Indigenous House to accommodate both intimate events and larger gatherings.

And the building’s fresh air will pass through a concrete totem intake and flow through a series of air tubes running underground to help moderate the temperature of the incoming air.

When deciding to put the new building in Scarborough and not UofT’s main campus, Tettey said there is a large Indigenous population in Scarborough that wants to be involved in a space like this and has been engaged in the design process.

Alfred Waugh, the designer of the Indigenous House, designed the structure based on a traditional winter wigwam, drawing “on traditional knowledge and ways of knowing.”

Rendering courtesy of UofT

“A key part of the of the process is ensuring consultation with Indigenous community members, so that we strike a balance and ensure they give input on the design, sustainability and cultural relevance of the space. Information sessions were conducted on campus, which included the creation of a community mural and teach-in discussion,” Tettey explained.

He noted that Isaac Murdoch, a storyteller from Serpent River First Nation, provided the traditional story of the UTSC community, and Christi Belcourt, a Michif visual artist, supported students, faculty, staff and community in the creation of an 8 ft by 25 ft mural. The public was able to view and provide feedback over the course of five days.

Due to the pandemic, UTSC has created virtual opportunities for people to engage, whose feedback will help advise architects on the different aspects and usage and design of the space.

Hopefully by 2022, the Indigenous community will have an accommodating space to gather and come together.

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