Jeff Turner, partnership development specialist with a focus on the DARE District, stands under the structure in the Ishkodewan courtyard. The structure resembles an upturned fishing weir and is one of many Indigenous aspects of the building. Photo credit: Emily Hsueh

Rolling thunder rumbles from within the Lodge. Students study under a massive wooden canoe and rest in an upturned fishing weir, surrounded by medicinal plants and warmed by a sacred fire. The college’s DARE District is home to numerous hidden Indigenous names, symbols and architecture, just waiting to be discovered by those who travel through.

Jeff Turner, partnership development specialist with a focus on the DARE District, explained that the building had to have a unique theme, and a strong Indigenous identity was a no-brainer.

“We introduced this Indigenous theme here so the wood, the etchings, they’re all the significant details,” said Turner.

On the first floor of the building is the Nawapon room, which means “gathering for the journey” and is described as the heart of the campus. Etched on its glass walls, passersby can find small animal symbols running along. At the back of the room is the Lodge, a large wooden room with a spiritual atmosphere.

“The significance of the Lodge is that it’s very ceremonial,” said Turner. The large curved wooden doors serve an interesting purpose to the Lodge’s placid atmosphere. When they are closed, “it’s like rolling thunder. It changes the tone of the room immediately. People come in here and it’ll be more serene.”

Turner stands in the spiritual room in Nawapon called the Lodge. It represents a teepee and is reserved for ceremonial purposes.

The round room also represents a teepee and is for reflection and discussion, said manager of Indigenous initiatives André O’Bonsawin.

“There’s no judgement done in that room,” he said. “We sit in a circle to share the day or purpose of the meeting. There’s no technology, no phones. We sit altogether and we have conversations, reflections and thank-yous.”

Though the Lodge is meant to be a place of gathering, it is not open for anyone to walk in, and for good reason, as Turner explains.

“The Lodge is kept locked for various reasons, but mostly because we want to use the Lodge in a purposeful fashion,” added Turner. “It’s really this special intimate place with the doors closed.”

Also included in Nawapon are a fully operational kitchen used for events and canvases depicting Canadian Indigenous scenes from coast to coast. These photographs were taken and donated by 2006 Algonquin alumna of the year, photographer Michelle Valberg, who gifted her work to the college to “add colour” the room and add even more of an Indigenous touch.

One of these images was also used in a limited edition two-dollar Canadian coin in 2017.

“She had these images blown up at her own expense and donated them,” said TK, “which is about an $18,000 gift to the college.”

The library also has several Indigenous aspects to be discovered.

“Students have been telling us for 25 years that we need a new library,” Turner said. “That was the opportunity we felt with this building fund; we would capitalize on that and the statement of indigenization and the college’s commitment to truth and reconciliation were all reasons that we created all these themes.”

The library features a vaulted ceiling made with vast wooden structures, which gives DARE its unique shape. It was created with 22 truckloads of wood, with five being used for the horizontal ribbing alone. Many visitors believe it resembles the underside of a canoe or an Indigenous gathering log house.

The library also put a ceremonial dancing shawl on display in the library on Sept. 13, which was gifted to the college by former president Cheryl Jensen as a goodbye and thank you to the school. It was acquired by Jensen at the Wabano Centre’s Igniting the Spirit event on July 20, 2019.

“The idea was to really have an Indigenous footprint to it,” Turner said. “It’s all about building identity.”