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Education (6-12)

Why Lakehead University renamed its Indigenous resource centre in Thunder Bay

March 28, 2024

Nanda Gikendan Gamik means ‘Seek to Know, Seek to Learn Place’

A person with blonde hair wearing a blue shirt and multi-coloured ribbon skirt stands in an aisle between bookshelves.
Denise Baxter is vice provost of Indigenous Initiatives at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ont. She says the Indigenous resource centre, now called Nanda Gikendan Gamik, is a central part of the school that highlights the importance of Indigenous knowledge. (Sarah Law/CBC)

CBC Indigenous: Lakehead University’s Indigenous resource centre in Thunder Bay, Ont., has a new name – and its meaning goes beyond its direct translation.

Formerly called the Northern Studies Resource Centre, the Indigenous Elders Council has renamed the space Nanda Gikendan Gamik, which means ‘Seek to Know, Seek to Learn Place.’

Located on the fifth floor of the Chancellor Paterson Library, the space overlooks Lake Superior, the City of Thunder Bay and Anemki Wajiw in Fort William First Nation. The walls are covered in Indigenous artwork, and a replica of the Robinson-Superior Treaty of 1850 is framed next to the entryway.

“This is one of the stops where we always bring people to say, ‘This is where we are. This is the important role that centering Indigenous ways of knowing ways and being and our people [plays] in this learning institution,'” said Denise Baxter, vice provost of Indigenous Initiatives at Lakehead.

A naming ceremony was held at the centre Wednesday and led by Elder Beatrice Twance-Hynes, a member of Biigtigong Nishnaabeg First Nation. She shared what it was like when she arrived in the city to start university.

“I was so afraid and everything was just so alien to me – coming from the reserve and stuff,” she said.

“It’s not like it is today. We didn’t have all those resources available for the Native students.”

Renaming the centre is part of Lakehead’s efforts to meet the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 94 Calls to Action. Trudy McKinnon, the librarian who manages Nanda Gikendan Gamik, has spent years building out the collection and making sure it’s a space centred around Indigenous knowledge, Baxter explained.

Decolonizing educational spaces

All undergraduate students at Lakehead University are required to take a half-credit course focused on Indigenous content in order to graduate. 

Dr. Juan Sánchez Martínez is an associate professor in Lakehead’s Indigenous Learning department. He was born in Bakatá/Bogotá in the Colombian Andes and completed his PhD in Canada. 

He said it’s important for people to recognize when they are on Indigenous territory, wherever they go in the world.

A person with dark hair and a ark blue shirt stands in front of book shelves, smiling.
Juan Sánchez Martínez is an associate professor at Lakehead University’s Indigenous Learning department. He was born in Bakatá/Bogotá in the Colombian Andes. He says it’s important for educational institutions to recognize the role they play in decolonization. (Sarah Law/CBC)

“It makes sense that institutions are respectful and acknowledge through action that history, and courses like what we offer in Indigenous learning — but other departments are part of this commitment of Canada,” he said.

“Sometimes it’s hard because it’s part of the settler-colonial history, but it’s also about the future and how can we build it together with everybody included.”

Chief Michele Solomon of Fort William First Nation spent a lot of time at the Indigenous resource centre as a student, and says she’s seen the space evolve and become more welcoming and reflective of the Indigenous people in the room.

To her, the centre’s new name is more than just a new sign on the wall.

A person with reddish-brown hair and glasses stands in front of a desk of drawers, smiling.
Chief Michele Solomon of Fort William First Nation says renaming the Indigenous resource centre at Lakehead University is a small but important step toward decolonizing educational spaces. (Sarah Law/CBC)

“It acknowledges the place that this university is situated, it acknowledges the importance of Indigenous languages and it also speaks to a commitment to continue to take steps to work toward the 94 Calls to Action,” Solomon said.

“Certainly, this is a small step, and we can only get there through a lot of small steps.”

Ribbon skirt lending library

Another unique feature of Nanda Gikendan Gamik is the rack of ribbon skirts behind the front desk. Students from Baxter’s Indigenous Learning class designed and sewed the skirts themselves. Now, their peers can borrow them the same way they’d borrow a library book.

A close-up of a rack of colourful skirts.
A rack of ribbon skirts at Lakehead University’s Indigenous resource centre in Thunder Bay, Ont., serves as a lending library. Students can borrow a skirt the same way they’d borrow a library book. (Sarah Law/CBC)

“We wanted to make sure that we are creating as much opportunity for students to engage in their cultural practice while they’re at school because many of them are away from home,” Baxter said. “Really thinking about: how at Lakehead University do we make this their community as well?”

The purpose of the project was not only to teach the students how to sew, but about the concept of reciprocity and the responsibility people have to and with each other, Baxter said.

She hopes next year’s class can expand the collection to also include ribbon shirts.


Sarah Law, Reporter

Sarah Law is a CBC News reporter based in Thunder Bay, Ont., and has also worked for newspapers and online publications elsewhere in the province. Have a story tip? You can reach her at