One of the most remarkable spaces on campus will take on new importance as Western creates a new Indigenous learning and gathering space, as outlined in its Indigenous Strategic Plan.
Over the next year, the distinctive circular library at the John. G. Althouse Faculty of Education Building will be repurposed into an Indigenous Learning Centre.
The facility will be a home for Indigenous learning initiatives and a place where people can gather and build relationships in the spirit of reconciliation, decolonization and Indigenization, said Candace Brunette-Debassige, Special Advisor to the Provost (Indigenous Initiatives).
“The space is so perfect,” she said. “The circular nature (of the building) really reflects Indigenous ways of knowing. In Indigenous cultures, it’s very reflective of nature, how we gather and are interconnected.
“The community already feels a sense that there’s something unique about it.”
Consultations about space planning will begin this summer, with renovations expected to begin in the next six months. The project looks to be completed by mid-2020.
Easily identifiable by its domed roof and rounded walls, the facility has three levels, with more than 10,000 square feet of indoor space. The centre will have a gathering area, mezzanine and teaching/classroom spaces. Outdoors, it will also feature a classroom, relocated Indigenous food and medicine garden and ceremonial space.
In a decision that preceded the building’s intended repurposing, library services for the Faculty of Education are shifting to meet students’ and researchers’ needs more effectively. The Vice-Provost and Chief Librarian and the Dean of Education are collaborating on specifics of the redesigned delivery model and space, said Andrew Hrymak, Provost and Vice-President (Academic).
Brunette-Debassige said outreach to the invested communities began last October to take an inventory of spaces and programming needs. Almost 300 people have participated in consultations so far.
“Because of the Truth and Reconciliation Committee and the strategic plan, there’s an increasing appetite for formal and informal spaces – a kind of home place on campus where Indigenous and non-Indigenous people can come together to learn about Indigenous ways of knowing and learning,” Brunette-Debassige said.
Western’s Indigenous Services, part of the Student Experience portfolio, will continue to have a home in the Student Services Building where it has offered a gathering space, student lounge, computer lab and elders’ office.
“This is an exciting new development aimed at supporting our aspirations in Indigenous education,” said Hrymak.
“It’s another signpost to Western and the broader community demonstrating the value we place on Indigenous teaching and learning and that we’re committed to advancing excellence here in Indigenous research, education and campus life.”
Western is academic home to more than 400 Indigenous students.