Skennen’kó:wa Gamig: York U’s Hart House renamed to create safe space for Indigenous peoples

TORONTO, Wednesday, June 21, 2017 – At a ceremony during National Aboriginal Day at York University today, Hart House was renamed Skennen’kó:wa Gamig, the House of Great Peace. And with that renaming comes the hope for further understanding and reconciliation.

The newly renovated Skennen’kó:wa Gamig will be a welcoming, safe and supportive space for Indigenous students, faculty and staff to come together in the spirit of Skennen’kó:wa (The Great Peace) to celebrate, and to share knowledge and teachings. The new name, Skennen’kó:wa Gamig, comes from both Mohawk and Anishnabe languages bringing together two of the confederacies that uphold and engage in the Dish with One Spoon Wampum territory.

To Ruth Koleszar-Green, co-chair, Indigenous Council at York U, Skennen’kó:wa Gamig reminds her she has a responsibility to foster peace in the world. The house will be a place where that peace can take root through the understanding and the rebuilding of relationships.

“It’s also really important as students come to the University that they also have the opportunity to learn not only what they’re taught in their courses, but about their history and heritage. Some of those students learn about their history for the first time after coming to York U,” said Koleszar-Green. “This house provides a safe and supportive place for that learning, but it also allows for a space where Indigenous peoples can lead the conversation.”

Today’s renaming ceremony began with a service by York U’s Elder-on-Campus and Indigenous Knowledge Keeper Amy Desjarlias, followed by a performance by Spirit Wind, a women’s hand drum group.

Gifts were presented to project supporters President Designate Rhonda Lenton, Dean of Osgoode Hall Law School Lorne Sossin and Trudy Pound-Curtis, Interim Vice-President Finance & Administration.

“It is truly special to be able to celebrate National Aboriginal Day with the dedication of this space to York University’s Indigenous community, and with its renaming,” said Mamdouh Shoukri, President and Vice-Chancellor. “Skennen’kó:wa Gamig is an important reminder of our ongoing mission to make our campuses open and collaborative places, and to honour our commitment to advance opportunities for Indigenous students across the country.”

Skennen’kó:wa Gamig is on York University’s Keele campus tucked into a forested area next to the York Tipi and Osgoode Hall Law School. The renaming is part of York U’s developing Indigenous Strategy, which includes creating spaces for Indigenous peoples, course content that explores Indigenous life, culture and tradition, and research that is relevant to Indigenous people, expected out this summer.

The house was owned by the Hart family until 1958 then briefly owned by Claude Passy before York U acquired it in 1964. It is on the traditional territory of several Indigenous nations, including the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, the Anishinabek Nation, the Huron-Wendat, the Metis Nations and the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation.

Earlier in the week, students from Kiiwednong Aboriginal Head Start planted hand-made hearts in the new Heart Garden at Skennen’kó:wa Gamig, which is a Cindy Blackstock national initiative that  pays tribute to children who died in residential schools. Blackstock will receive an honorary doctor of laws at York U’s June 23 convocation ceremony. She is a member of the Gitxsan First Nation and executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society.

York U will also host the North American Indigenous Games, July 16 to 23.

York University is known for championing new ways of thinking that drive teaching and research excellence. Our students receive the education they need to create big ideas that make an impact on the world. Meaningful and sometimes unexpected careers result from cross-discipline programming, innovative course design and diverse experiential learning opportunities. York students and graduates push limits, achieve goals and find solutions to the world’s most pressing social challenges, empowered by a strong community that opens minds. York U is an internationally recognized research university – our 11 faculties and 26 research centres have partnerships with 200+ leading universities worldwide. Located in Toronto, York is the third largest university in Canada, with a strong community of 53,000 students, 7,000 faculty and administrative staff, and more than 295,000 alumni. York U's fully bilingual Glendon campus is home to Southern Ontario's Centre of Excellence for French Language and Bilingual Postsecondary Education.

Media Contact:

Sandra McLean, York University Media Relations, 416-736-2100 ext. 22097, sandramc@yorku.ca