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University of Guelph embraces Indigenous culture with new name for science atrium

More Indigenous culture will be represented at the Summerlee Science Complex atrium at the University of Guelph.

The post-secondary school’s atrium has been renamed to Waasamowin, which comes from the Ojibwe language meaning to be bathed in light.

Melissa Perrault, a neuroscience professor at the school, was one of two people to spearhead the project.

Perrault said she’s thrilled with the completion of the atrium.

“We’ve worked on many different initiatives including orientation handbooks. There’s going to be art going into the second-floor lab wing of the building as well,” Perrault said.

Perrault, along with Ryan Gregory, were told by Anishinaabe Elder Rene Meshake that the space will tell you its own name, as they started the journey in renaming the atrium in the name of Indigenization.

The 12,000-square-foot shared gathering space, which mixes glass, stone and brick with lush foliage and natural day light under tall ceilings, was blessed by Meshake in a ceremony on April 10.

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The atrium will also feature four original paintings from Indigenous artists.

She said she and Gregory met with each artist and allowed them to create their own vision of what they saw in the space after informing them of the research that went into the project.

The paintings were a part of the ceremony as well.

“It’s one thing to take it out of the box and look at it, it’s a completely different thing to actually see the art up on the walls,” she said.

“They are absolutely breathtaking, and I can only describe it as a feeling of immense gratitude and joy being able to see that they’re going to be up there permanently.”

Perrault, who is Metis, said she hopes more Indigenization happens on campus.

After coming to the U of G in 2017, her goal was to create resources and supports for Indigenous students in order to provide them a welcoming, inclusive and successful academic experience.

Perrault believes renaming the atrium is one more step to achieving that goal.

As far as what’s next for the space, she said there is still more work to do.

She said they want to raise money to try and finish some of the other initiatives.

“We installed a residential school memorial marker outside of the Summerlee Science Complex and it would be lovely if we could put a reflection garden around that, so that is one thing that we want to do,” she said.

Among other ideas include a grand Indigenous sculpture in front of the school.

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