Feb. 22, 2024

Aapiiniioyis (White Buffalo Lodge) fosters connection and contemplation

Werklund School of Education thinks beyond boardrooms with welcoming and inclusive new gathering space
Aubrey Hanson
Aubrey Hanson in the Aapiiniioyis (White Buffalo Lodge). Zoltan Varadi

So, you find yourself surrounded by the Brutalist bricks of one of the University of Calgary’s original 1960s-era buildings, and you’re wondering, "How can my team create a warm, welcoming, and inclusive new space within this architectural context — one that is designed to be a wellspring of knowledge, community engagement and introspection?”

Well, perhaps you can draw inspiration from the Werklund School of Education.

This past fall, the school officially opened the doors to the resplendent Aapiiniioyis (White Buffalo Lodge) on the third floor of the Education Tower. Given its name by retired educator and Kainai Elder Ninna Piiksii (Dr. Mike Bruised Head) at a Pipe Ceremony in mid-September, the room is marked by several standout features that are evocative of nature and attentive to the spirit of Indigenization and decolonization. These include: 

  • An office for visiting Elders and an HVAC system specifically designed to accommodate Smudging ceremonies.
  • Seating arranged in a circle with more circles printed on the floor to encourage gatherings of a non-hierarchal nature inspired by Indigenous ways of knowing and being.
  • Some 3,000 wooden dowels hanging from the ceiling with strategically placed light fixtures nestled in between, suggesting dapples of sunlight in a forest. (Notably, this lighting can be adjusted to evoke different times and moods: dawn, dusk, etc.)
  • Cozy corners with comfortable seating arranged below contemporary Indigenous artworks and even a faux fireplace replete with dancing “flames” made of vapour.

“The impetus for the lodge really arose out of conversations about ‘How do we create an intellectual community? How do we allow for connection and dialogue beyond structured meetings or structured classes?’” explains Dr. Dianne Gereluk, dean of the Werklund School. She says early discussions considered several approaches, including a creative digital space, but upon realizing that both traditional bricks and mortar meeting rooms and online platforms were abundant in the faculty and across campus, it became clear the project needed to go in an entirely new direction.

“What we actually wanted was a place of contemplation,” says Gereluk. 

Aapiiniioyis certainly serves this purpose in several ways. Since opening, it has hosted research lectures, served as a classroom, been the site of a PhD oral defence that opened with a Smudge, and has been a place where education students, faculty, and staff can just go to gather their thoughts, unwind, or converse.

Werklund associate professor Dr. Aubrey Hanson, PhD,’17, who has been teaching the graduate-level course Indigenous Research Methods in Education (EDER 630) in the space, says she knew Aapiiniioyis was fulfilling its promise when she encountered a student there just before the first class of this term.

“I came in and one of my students was already seated by the fireplace. She had made herself at home and was comfortably preparing for class,” says Hanson, who is Métis and the director of Indigenous education for the Werklund School. “For me to walk in and see an Indigenous student feeling at home, it just absolutely warmed my heart. I was like, ‘That is exactly what this space is supposed to do.’ People can just pop in here and be at home, they can smudge, they can hang out, work, visit, or meet.

“We have a lot of great initiatives going on for Indigenous education at the Werklund School of Education, but actually having a physical space that reflects that work makes a huge difference,” she continues. “When you walk in here, you see Indigenous art, and there is a real attentiveness in the design of the space to connection with the land. Indigenous ways of knowing, being, doing, relating, and connecting are foregrounded.

“Indigeneity is explicitly valued in this place and that really matters.”

Gereluk points to one of the artworks on the wall as having particular resonance in terms of communicating what Aapiiniioyis is all about. Created by Werklund alumna Neepin Auger, MEd'19, and entitled All of Us Together, the piece depicts a pair of tipis against a blazing red sky. On the text label that accompanies the painting, Auger writes: 

“In the Summertime we would camp together.
We knew this was a time for us to connect back to the earth,
But also back to each other.”

Auger, now not only a respected painter but also a vice-principal at Tsuut'ina Many Horses High School, has credited her time studying with Dr. Yvonne Poitras Pratt, PhD, for the Indigenous Education: a Call to Action graduate certificate at Werklund for inspiring her to return to an artistic practice as a means of expression.

“I love that painting because it reflects her journey through the Werklund School of Education, coming into the Master of Education Program, and reclaiming her identity as an artist,” says Gereluk. “As soon as I saw it, I was struck by the notion that it symbolized the conversations we were having about this gathering space ­— what it means for us in terms of connection and how that creates a sense of community.”

Hanson points out that the beauty of Aapiiniioyis is that it is precisely because of the elements directly inspired or informed by Indigeneity, not despite them, that the room can be used and enjoyed by anyone.

“It’s universal in that if you design something that's accessible for a particular group, it can open possibilities for everybody. I feel that's a principle in education, the Universal Design for Learning. It’s a great example of how an Indigenous-friendly space makes a lovely space for all.”

Visit the Werklund School of Education’s Indigenous Education: Call to Action web page.