University of Ottawa welcomes first Indigenous elder in residence
Published Friday, September 8, 2017 10:33AM EDT
Last Updated Friday, September 8, 2017 11:13AM EDT
For the first time, the University of Ottawa’s law faculty has appointed an elder in residence.
Claudette Commanda, a First Nations activist and a University of Ottawa law professor, will assume the role and hopes to give Indigenous law students a sense of belonging, while at the same time helping them when they’re having trouble merging Canadian law with Indigenous teachings and wisdom.
“What I can accomplish is opening the minds of social consciousness of not only the students, but also the professors, the faculty at large and the university at large,” she said during an interview with Your Morning Friday.
“More importantly, it’s to raise awareness that First Nations people are here and have been here and that we have much to offer with respect to our traditional knowledge and our ancestral ways of life.“
Commanda, an Algonquin Anishinabe from the Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg First Nation in Quebec, has dedicated the last 30 years of her life to promoting First Nations people, history, culture and rights in various capacities. She is the Executive Director of the First Nations Confederacy of Cultural Education Centres.
“As an esteemed traditional knowledge keeper, distinguished alumna and member of the Common Law Honour Society, I cannot think of a better person to hold this important new position within our faculty,” University of Ottawa Interim Dean François Larocque, said in a news release.
During her time as a professor at the University of Ottawa, she’s helped educate the law school faculty about Indigenous culture, by explaining land and culture protocols.
She’s also been an advocate in the Idle No More and the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women movements.
Commanda acknowledges the new position could lead to some difficult conversations in the classrooms, but says she will to “agree to disagree,” if need be.
“There will always be times where there will be disagreements,” she said. “Our dialogue has to be on the premise of respect.”
‘I’m very prepared; I mean, I’ve been prepared for the last 61 years of my life.”
Her family is deeply rooted in First Nations advocacy. William Commanda, Claudette’s grandfather, is an Algonquin elder and former Chief who was dedicated to protecting the Algonquin people and the environment.
In 1990, he blessed the Human Rights Monument in Ottawa with the Dalai Lama and was named an officer of the Order of Canada in 2008.
“He taught me to proud of who I am as the first peoples of this land,” said Commanda. “He instilled in me to be strong of who I am, to speak the truth and speak from the spirit.”