‘Kiknu’, the new Indigenous Student Centre at St. FX, described as ‘home away from home’

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St. Francis Xavier University launched a new Indigenous Student Centre under the name “Kiknu” — meaning “our home.”

Located in Dennis Hall in the Coady Institute, the centre and its new name were unveiled in a Friday ceremony.

“’Kiknu’ just seemed appropriate because it really is a home-away-from-home for a lot of these students who live on campus,” says Michelle Sylliboy, an assistant professor at the St. FX art department.

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She says all students should have a safe space on campus.

“All Indigenous students want a sense of belonging in large institutions… especially when they’re in their home away from home.”

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Sylliboy, of We’koqmaq First Nation, discussed with the community and Mi’kmaw Elders on what to name the new student centre.

“They need that space that allows them to feel comfortable and supported and also recognized for who they are as Indigenous people on campus.”

Fifth-year political science student Jeneva Dennis says the centre means a lot to her.

“It gives me a sense of belonging and comfort,” she says.

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While there has always been an Indigenous Student Centre at the university, it never had a name or a space designated just to Indigenous students.

“We used to be combined in one spot with the African descent student advisor, the Indigenous student advisor and the LGBTQ student advisor. We had this one little corner… and it was kind of all of our spot,” Dennis says.

“We’ve had a dream to have a bigger centre, we wanted our own spot, and we finally got it.”

“It’s a really nice space; there’s couches, TVs and Macs,” Dennis says.

A space like this is especially useful as the COVID-19 pandemic continues. Dennis says campus study rooms have to be booked in advance, but Kiknu will be available whenever requested.

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“I’m taking five courses right now and it’s hectic as a single parent of two. Just having my own time, I’ll take advantage of having the centre and being able to do my studies there.”

Jeneva Dennis is seen with her two children. Submitted by Jeneva Dennis

“It’s just something that’s needed. It’s so hard already being an Indigenous (student).”

With Antigonish being an hour away from Dennis’ home in Potlotek First Nation reserve, she says the Indigenous Student Center was always a space where she can feel comfortable.

“I felt alone in my first year cause I moved out of my reserve that I’ve lived on all my life and I was a single parent. My daughter was 10 months old and I didn’t know anyone here,” Dennis says.

“The Indigenous Student Centre just made life a little easier, just finding people that had kids, or just someone to talk to.”

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Click to play video 'St. FX student says new Indigenous Student Centre makes her feel at home' St. FX student says new Indigenous Student Centre makes her feel at home

St. FX student says new Indigenous Student Centre makes her feel at home

The new-and-improved Kiknu won’t only be used as a study and resource space, but also as a centre where Indigenous students can learn and practice Mi’kmaw culture.

“We learn cultural teachings like beadwork, we’re learning to make moccasins, we learn how to do medicine pouches.”

“I love that we have that,” Dennis says, adding that it’s a place where she can bring her kids as well.

“I’m actually able to exercise my culture, I’m able to do things within my culture on campus as well.”

Read more: Mi’kmaq dub of animated film ‘Chicken Run’ helps keep Indigenous language alive

The centre is planning a drum-making session soon, she says.

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Sylliboy says Kiknu will be a space for her to go to as well.

“As the only Mi’kmaw faculty at St. FX, it always nice to be around other Indigenous people, who understand where you’re coming from.”

Sylliboy said with a laugh that if she is invited, she will happily participate in cultural events at the centre.

The new centre is an important part of reconciliation between a large institution and First Nations students, she says.

Click to play video 'Michelle Sylliboy grateful for new Indigenous Student Centre at St. FX' Michelle Sylliboy grateful for new Indigenous Student Centre at St. FX

Michelle Sylliboy grateful for new Indigenous Student Centre at St. FX

“These seem like small steps but it’s bigger in the long-term.

“It opens up more doors of being able to communicate with faculty and staff.”

“It’s really amazing when something like this happens and is available and it’s accessible, it really opens up new dialogues.”

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Dennis says it’s important to her to feel included.

“I feel important having that spot. I feel a sense of pride, it’s pretty cool as being Mi’kmaw.”

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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