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True North Living » Cause » Respect for Indigenous Culture in the Nation’s Capital
Darren Sutherland, University of Ottawa

Darren Sutherland

Indigenous Community Engagement Officer, University of Ottawa

The University of Ottawa’s devotion to diversity and inclusion includes a commitment to Indigenizing the school.

The respect for Indigenous communities shines bright at the University of Ottawa (uOttawa), which is located in the nation’s capital on traditional Algonquin Territory. From the school’s Indigenous Affirmation to its Indigenous Action Plan and Indigenous Affairs team, uOttawa is continuously working in partnership with the Indigenous Education Council, Indigenous student groups, and members of the local Indigenous community to Indigenize the school.

A commitment to Indigenous communities

uOttawa is dedicated to mobilizing its community in creating an environment that reflects, enhances, includes, and supports Indigenous culture and peoples on campus. Its Office of Indigenous Affairs is one of the key elements demonstrating its commitment.

“The Office of Indigenous Affairs is responsible for the Indigenization of the campus as well as for the Indigenous students seeking access to services and support at the Mashkawazìwogamig: Indigenous Resource Centre,” says Darren Sutherland, Indigenous Community Engagement Officer at uOttawa.

Sutherland notes that the Office of Indigenous Affairs was born from community need. “The office was created in 2017 as a result of consultation with the Indigenous community here in Ottawa and some of the surrounding communities, as well as conversation with Indigenous staff, faculty, and students here on campus,” he says.

Creating a safe and welcoming environment

As part of uOttawa’s commitment to the Indigenous community, it recently established a policy that allows students to engage in traditional spiritual practices, including smudging and lighting the qulliq, without requiring permission from Ottawa Fire Services or uOttawa Protection Services.

“Policy 124 is the Provision for Indigenous Ceremonial Practices for Events on University Campus,” says Sutherland. The policy outlines how uOttawa accommodates such practices, as required under the Ontario Human Rights Code, and the procedures under which these practices can occur.

“When I was a student here, years ago, we were allowed to smudge at the Indigenous Resource Centre but I never felt fully comfortable because I felt that the awareness about the practice wasn’t there,” says Sutherland. “Now that there’s a policy and the awareness has improved around practices such as smudging or the lighting of the qulliq, First Nations or Inuit students can feel safer doing these practices on campus.”

Addressing the challenges of Indigenous students

Kyra Hagerty, a member of the Cree Nation and a student at uOttawa, agrees. “There have been times when I’ve been really overwhelmed and I’ve come to the Indigenous Resource Centre and been allowed a safe place to smudge, which I really appreciate,” she says. Hagerty notes that Indigenous students have to deal with culture shock and loneliness as a result of being separated from their communities and ceremonial practices. The Resource Centre and Policy 124 help address these challenges.

“It’s all about awareness and feeling like part of the community here by knowing you can perform these cultural practices without having to worry about any sort of reprisal,” says Sutherland.

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