Trent University launches the Chanie Wenjack School for Indigenous Studies

Announcement on National Aboriginal Day honours the Anishinaabe boy who died in 1966 after running away from residential school

Students sit in a tipi on Symons Campus at Trent University as they listen to a professor. Trent University has consolidated and renamed its indigenous studies program as the Chanie Wenjack School for Indigenous Studies, in honour of the nine-year-old Anishinaabe boy who died from exposure when trying to get home after running away from a residential school in Kenora in 1966. (Photo: Trent University)
Students sit in a tipi on Symons Campus at Trent University as they listen to a professor. Trent University has consolidated and renamed its indigenous studies program as the Chanie Wenjack School for Indigenous Studies, in honour of the nine-year-old Anishinaabe boy who died from exposure when trying to get home after running away from a residential school in Kenora in 1966. (Photo: Trent University)

On National Aboriginal Day, Trent University has renamed its indigenous studies program the Chanie Wenjack School for Indigenous Studies.

The naming honours the memory of Chanie Wenjack, a nine-year-old Anishinaabe boy who died from exposure after running away from a residential school in Kenora in 1966 in an attempt to walk 600 kilometres back to his home.

The newly named school is the result of one of 11 recommendations approved by the University’s Senate to further Trent’s leadership in indigenous reconciliation and education.

Pearl Wenjack holds a photo of her brother Chanie Wenjack (photo: Historica Canada)
Pearl Wenjack holds a photo of her brother Chanie Wenjack (photo: Historica Canada)

“The naming of the Chanie Wenjack School for Indigenous Studies and the implementation of the associated recommendations are a milestone in the evolution of Indigenous Studies at Trent,” says Dr. Leo Groarke, president and vice-chancellor of Trent University.

“We aim to educate indigenous and non-indigenous students about indigenous history, traditions, cultures, and ways of knowing. National Aboriginal Day is a good day to celebrate these initiatives, but we are striving to make indigenous reconciliation part of our everyday work and consciousness.”

VIDEO: Chanie Wenjack School for Indigenous Studies

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

You can visit the school’s website at www.trentu.ca/indigenous/. It includes a history of Trent University’s leadership in indigenous studies.

Red Lake tapestry at the entrance to the Chanie Wenjack Theatre, so named in 1973 after a group of student leaders from the Indigenous Studies department lobbied for Otonabee College to do so. (Photo: Trent University)
Red Lake tapestry at the entrance to the Chanie Wenjack Theatre, so named in 1973 after a group of student leaders from the Indigenous Studies department lobbied for Otonabee College to do so. (Photo: Trent University)

Trent University previously paid tribute to Chanie and other residential school victims and survivors when Wenjack Theatre was named in his honour.

When construction began on Otonabee College at Trent University in 1973, a group of student leaders from the Indigenous Studies department lobbied for the college to be named in Chanie’s honour. The campaign spearheaded by student leaders led to the naming of Trent’s largest lecture hall as the Chanie Wenjack Theatre.

“This is the latest effort in Trent’s well-known 48-year record of indigenous reconciliation,” says David Newhouse, director of the School and chair of Indigenous Studies at Trent. “We will continue to honour the life of Chanie Wenjack and recognize the impact that residential schools had on indigenous peoples through the work that we plan to undertake at Trent.”

David Newhouse, director of the Chanie Wenjack School for Indigenous Studies. (Photo: Trent University)
David Newhouse, director of the Chanie Wenjack School for Indigenous Studies. (Photo: Trent University)

Other recommendations approved by the University Senate include a 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. Trent is only the third university in Canada to institute mandatory indigenous course content.

In 1969, Trent University became the first in Canada (and only the second in North America) to establish an academic department dedicated to the study of indigenous peoples and indigenous knowledge.

Trent was also the first university in Canada to create unique indigenous spaces, hire indigenous student support staff, recruit and admit indigenous students through special entry programs, and to teach indigenous languages and indigenous knowledge with elders and traditional peoples.

In 1972, Trent University created the first aboriginal student space at a Canadian university when it opened the Native Studies Lounge at Otonabee College. (Photo: Trent University)
In 1972, Trent University created the first aboriginal student space at a Canadian university when it opened the Native Studies Lounge at Otonabee College. (Photo: Trent University)

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