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Wenjack & Downie Families Join Trent University to Celebrate Opening of Chanie Wenjack School for Indigenous Studies

March 9, 2018

Trent University builds on legacy of leadership in Indigenous education and reconciliation with launch of new school

Chanie's Sisters smiling in front of plaque

The families of Chanie Wenjack and Gord Downie gathered together with Trent students, staff, faculty and local community members in Peterborough today to celebrate the official launch of the Chanie Wenjack School for Indigenous Studies – a milestone development in the University’s longstanding leadership in Indigenous education and reconciliation.

Named in honour of the life and history of Chanie Wenjack, a young Anishinaabe boy who died in his attempt to escape residential school in 1966, the School represents a significant addition to Trent University’s nearly 50-year history instilling Indigenous reconciliation in the institution’s everyday work.

“The Chanie Wenjack School for Indigenous Studies works to create an environment of dignity, respect, understanding and a home for all students. It also provides a space for Indigenous students to understand their own culture and heritage better, while also cultivating greater understanding amongst non-Indigenous students,” explains Professor David Newhouse, director of the School. “The School is at the forefront of showing mainstream Canadians that Indigenous knowledge is valued, contemporary, and can be used to build better Indigenous and Canadian futures.”

Speaking on behalf of the Wenjack family, Pearl Achneepineskum, Chanie’s sister, said: “The people in Peterborough and at Trent have always had a spot in my heart. Trent took the initiative to honour Chanie back in 1973. I would like to thank Trent for continuing to honour Chanie, and for their leadership in Indigenous education.”

“I am so proud to attend the opening of the Chanie Wenjack School for Indigenous Studies with Chanie’s sisters, Pearl, Daisy and Evelyn,” added Mike Downie, co-founder of the Gord Downie and Chanie Wenjack Fund, who also attended the launch event. “Trent University has been, and continues to be, a leader in Indigenous education to break down barriers between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians through their programming, resources, and initiatives.”

The Chanie Wenjack School for Indigenous Studies brings together Trent’s undergraduate, master’s and Ph.D. programs under one umbrella and unites various events, initiatives and spaces dedicated to Indigenous perspectives, knowledge and culture at the University.

The naming was announced on National Aboriginal Day in June as part of the University’s approval of a substantial series of recommendations furthering Trent’s leadership Indigenous reconciliation and education. Other key recommendations included an innovative lecture-talk series that will bring prominent Indigenous leaders to the University to speak on Indigenous issues, and a new academic requirement for all undergraduate students to successfully complete at least 0.5 credits from an approved list of courses with Indigenous content. With this recommendation, Trent becomes only the third university in Canada to institute mandatory Indigenous course content.

Prior to the launch of the Chanie Wenjack School for Indigenous Studies, Trent University paid tribute to Chanie and other residential school victims and survivors when Wenjack Theatre, the largest lecture hall on campus, was named in his honour in 1973.

Trent’s groundbreaking leadership in Indigenous Studies dates back to our beginnings, when we became the first university in Canada, and only the second in North America, to establish an academic department dedicated to the study of Indigenous peoples and Indigenous knowledge. View our timeline and learn more about Trent’s history of Indigenous leadership.  

For more information about the Chanie Wenjack School for Indigenous Studies: trentu.ca/indigenous