April 16, 2024

Grandmother’s Lodge is home away from home for Indigenous students

Ongoing support through initiatives like Giving Day crucial for expansion of ceremonial lodge programming
people seated in a circle
People gather in the lodge for a pipe ceremony. Don McSwiney, University of Calgary

A university might not be the first place you’d associate with family, but Kiipitakyoyis – Grandmother’s Lodge aims to provide just that type of atmosphere for the local Indigenous community. Its potential for impact is undeniable.

The ceremonial lodge, situated on the University of Calgary campus, is integral to both the Faculty of Social Work's decolonization efforts and ii’ taa’poh’to’p, UCalgary’s Indigenous Strategy. Kiipitakyoyis — which was named by Siksika Elder Clarence Wolfleg and means “Grandmother’s Lodge” in the Blackfoot language — is committed to sharing understanding of Indigenous ways of knowing, creating a sense of belonging and community, and enhancing the recruitment and retention of Indigenous students.

“We do everything in this Lodge that your grandmother would do for you,” says Kerrie Moore, BSW’03, MSW’04, Métis and Cree from Treaty 6 territory in Saskatchewan. Moore is the Elder of Kiipitakyoyis, a sessional instructor and Wellness Elder with Social Work, and also one of the Elders for UCalgary’s Indigenous Advisory Circle.

“We provide that love, that kindness, that nurturing, that caring, that sharing, that teaching, that food — that’s what we do in this Lodge.

“We welcome all people because we want everyone to know who we are. Our hopes are that every single day this space is filled with people and we have things going on, and that it is very well used.”

three people sit against a wall with Indigenous artwork behind them

From left: Deandra Neufeld, Kerrie Moore and Onyx Shelton.

Courtesy Grandmother's Lodge

Unveiled on the third floor of MacKimmie Tower in January 2020, Kiipitakyoyis is a ceremonial pipe lodge that has a large, open space for ceremonies. There is also a quiet study area and a kitchen. Toiletries and some pantry items are available to students, while ceremonial items such as skirts, blankets and shawls are accessible for ceremonial use. Kiipitakyoyis also offers Elder and wellness supports to students, as well as connections and referrals to community resources.

And food. There is always food, which is customary of Indigenous cultures.

“That makes me feel like I want to be here and I can learn,” says Onyx Shelton, Anishinaabe and a member of the Little Saskatchewan First Nation and of mixed settler ancestry. Shelton is a Faculty of Social Work practicum student, or oskâpêwis (ceremonial attendant or helper in the Cree language) at Kiipitakyoyis

“Access to food and other forms of security, which are inherent human rights, makes me feel safe.”

Adds Moore: “It’s not a question of whether we give you food, it’s a question of what we have to give you. And sometimes it’s not much, right?”

Increased funding would help a transformational on-campus program become even better, and that’s where Giving Day comes in.

Giving Day fundraising can expand programming

Giving Day, which runs through April 18, is an excellent opportunity for donors to support Grandmother’s Lodge — or the UCalgary initiative of their choice. 

In addition to providing more food for guests, philanthropic support allows Grandmother’s Lodge to maintain its current programs — a monthly Cree Grandmothers’ Tea Ceremony and a popular Indigenous Ways of Knowing webinar series — and to increase the number of events it hosts. 

“We’ve had to really manage our budget. Can we do more ceremonies? We’d love to do more, but the reality is …” says Kiipitakyoyis Lodge Keeper/Adviser Deandra Neufeld, BSW’05, who is Kanien'keha:ka (Mohawk), Turtle Clan, from Six Nations of the Grand River in Ontario and also of German settler ancestry.

“We need money if the Lodge is going to be able to make its mission and its goals,” adds Dr. Terry Poucette, PhD, of Stoney Nakoda First Nation, director of Kiipitakyoyis and a Social Work associate professor. 

portrait of a woman

Terry Poucette.

Courtesy Terry Poucette

There are costs associated with ceremonies, she says. For example, gifts of gratitude such as tobacco, blankets and honoraria are dictated by cultural protocol for visiting Elders and Knowledge Keepers. 

“It’s about treating Indigenous people with the dignity and respect they deserve and being valued on equal footing,” Poucette says. “Resources are needed to help guide the Faculty of Social Work towards its strategic goal of decolonization and Indigenization.”

Preparing social workers to serve Indigenous communities

Key, too, is enhancing the perspective of the faculty’s undergraduates, the social workers of the future. Kiipitakyoyis offers a path to understanding Indigenous history, culture, current reality, languages and teachings.

 “It was important that the faculty created a space for Indigenous students, but also for (non-Indigenous social work students) to learn about the people they’re going to work with more than any other population,” says Moore.

One tradition that visitors can appreciate is smudging, which involves prayer and the creation of sacred smoke by the burning of medicines, such as sage. The cleansing ceremony produces an unmistakably warm environment.

“The first thing Indigenous students say is, ‘It smells like my kokum’s house,’” says Shelton, using the Cree word for grandmother. “A lot of these students are coming here from communities abroad or from other parts of Canada that are isolated, and they experience severe culture shock.

“To be able to come to a space that smells like your grandmother’s home, while in such a foreign place, can reinvigorate you. It helps people stay here and keep going.”

people sitting in a circle on a lawn outdoors

People gather for a Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls and Two Spirit (MMIWG2S+) Honour Circle on National Red Dress Day, May 5, 2023.

Skye Wikjord, University of Calgary

UCalgary Giving Day is April 18. Whether you support research, student awards or another one of UCalgary’s innovative funds, your gift will help change lives and shape the future. Eligible gifts made from April 4-18 will be matched, up to $2,500 per gift, per fund — but only while matching funds last, so be sure to give early! Make your gift today at ucalgary.ca/givingday.

Sign up for UToday

Sign up for UToday

Delivered to your inbox — a daily roundup of news and events from across the University of Calgary's 14 faculties and dozens of units

Thank you for your submission.