What is your connection to Migizii Agamik?
I was part of the dreamers, creators and developers of the building. Since I began working at the U of M in September 1989, lobbying for a space; helping with the coordination of community forums; sitting on the building committee during the development and construction; physically helping create the stone mosaic in the centre along with family, students and community and led by architect Dave Thomas; leading the organization and hosting of the Grand Opening in September 2008; and finally, developing and a building committee to work on the content, spirit and programming of Migizii Agamik, up until I left in 2014.
Share a memory that you have of the building.
I have three very strong and momentous memories of Migizii Agamik - moments where I knew that we had achieved support for our dream.
The first memory is the ceremony when we had the building blessed by Elder and Keeper of the Sacred White Buffalo Calf Pipe, Chief Arvol Looking Horse. Due to the construction, we were told that we would have to wear safety boots, hats and gear to enter the building - making ceremony very difficult. Instead of cancelling or postponing our planned work, the university and the construction crew took that time up so we could enter and do the work safely. This is when I new that something special was happening.
The second memory I have is the Grand Opening of Migizii Agamik in September of 2008. There were so many people who came out to support and see this magnificent building that we were overflowing. It was such a heart-warming day and I knew then that we were welcomed and supported by the U of M community - Indigenous and non-Indigenous students, staff, faculty and community members were all strongly represented amongst the guest.
My third memory is of an icy cold and blistering winter morning when I arrived to find one of the students shovelling the walkways. When I asked Bev Getty (the 'Mom' of Migizii} why this student was shovelling when he did not have to, she informed me that he said: "I need to do something to give back for everything the staff, and Migizii has done for me." It was then I realized (through tears) that everything we had gone through to get Migizii Agamik built was worth it. We had given studnets a place to be and belong. We had built a home.
What do you want current and future students to know about Migizii Agamik?
This is a home. Migizii Agamik was designed first and foremost to provide warmth, shelter and support for Indigenous students, a place to feel connect and to build community. Ceremony was a part of everything from the tobacco buried at the site and the blessings and ceremonies that occurred throughout the process of its build, led by Elder Garry Robson. It is a safe place where you can relax and be yourself. As one very articulate student summarized it - "I feel so comfortable here because I never have to explain myself, I can just BE."
Migizii Agamik wasn't designed to just support Indigenous students however, but to also support the University of Manitoba. As the centre of Indigenous life at the university, it was necessary to ensure Migizii agamik was well positioned to help the campus navigate the process of reconciliation and assist non-Indigenous communities to create a relationship with Indigenous ways of being, knowing, and walking. In this vein it was crucial to the original building designers that Migizii Agamik house academic offices, student space, Elders, and all the supports necessary for a community to thrive and grow. All four of these elements are formative poles to the building and are necessary to the wholistic principles the building is founded upon - all are necessary to hold up the lodge. Migizii Agamik was intended to play a vital role in fostering a reciprocal relationship for Indigenous and non-Indigenous people at the U of M and to provide a space for communities to lean and grow from one another.
To never forget this, the building was given a name through ceremony from Elder Charlie Nelson: Migizii Agamik. In the story of this name, Migizii Agamik refers to 'a Bald Eagle coming in and providing a calming energy to those who are facing the challenges of a strong force.' It must always keep that beautiful calming energy and be a place where everyone can feel like they belong.
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