With Trent University’s newest residential college scheduled to open in 2028, the university announced on Wednesday (November 15) that the college will be named in honour of the late Curve Lake First Nation Elder and former chief Gidigaa Migizi (Douglas Williams).
The much-beloved Williams, who passed away last July, was also an associate professor at the university and director of studies for the PhD program in Indigenous Studies, teaching the land-based course for program. In Anishinaabemowin (the Ojibwe language), Gidigaa Migizi means spotted eagle.
To be built on the east bank of Trent University’s Symons Campus in Peterborough, Gidigaa Migizi College will be the university’s sixth college, joining Champlain, Lady Eaton, Peter Gzowski, Otonabee, and Catharine Parr Traill. The colleges are scholarly communities comprising student residences, dining halls, and academic and administrative space.
The decision to select an Anishnaabe name for the new college follows a recommendation of the university’s Champlain Report to honour the treaty and traditional territory on which Trent University sits.
The name Gidigaa Migizi College was recommended by the university’s Elders & Traditional Knowledge Keepers Council and was approved by the university’s board of governors.
“Gidigaa Migizi was a giant both at Trent and in the Anishnaabeg nation,” says Anne Taylor of Curve Lake First Nation, a member of the Elders & Traditional Knowledge Keepers Council, in a media release. “He was a champion of knowledge, of learning, of students, and of our community. In our culture, eagles are held in high esteem and symbolize honour, respect, strength, courage, and wisdom. These are all characteristics we want Trent students to embody.”
A 1972 graduate of what was then called the “Indian/Eskimo Studies” program at Trent (now Indigenous Studies), Williams remained deeply involved with the university throughout his lifetime, helping to shape academic programs, administrative policies, cultural practices, and advance education about Indigenous peoples.
Williams was co-director of the Indigenous Studies PhD program and a professor within the Chanie Wenjack School for Indigenous Studies at Trent. He also served on the university’s Indigenous Education Committee and the Elders Council. Prior to joining Trent as a student and later a faculty member, he was a bricklayer who helped build the university’s Champlain College.
A champion of the Anishnaabeg nation from the Michi Saagiig community of Curve Lake First Nation, Williams was also an active negotiator for legal recognition of treaty rights. His most significant advocacy work involved the 1981 case of R. v. Taylor and Williams, in which the First Nations peoples who live in Treaty 20 — an area of land that overlaps the Williams Treaties, including modern-day Peterborough and parts of Kawartha Lakes and Durham — argued that the agreement they signed in 1818 (known as the Rice Lake Purchase) guaranteed their right to hunt and fish. The Ontario Court of Appeal ruled that Treaty 20 did in fact guarantee those rights.
An architecturally significant building purposefully constructed to promote learning, embrace diversity, and foster meaningful connections between students, staff, and faculty, Gidigaa Migizi College will include as many as 700 new beds for first-year students along with classrooms, faculty offices, and student spaces. The college’s name will help inform the design of the spaces and iconography of the college.
“This naming is a testament to Trent’s ongoing commitment to recognizing and celebrating Indigenous culture and heritage,” says Marilyn Burns, Trent University’s vice president of communications and enrolment.
“Gidigaa Migizi, a respected elder and a pillar in the Michi Saagiig Anishnaabeg and Trent communities, has left a lasting legacy that will continue to inspire and educate our students for generations to come. Gidigaa Migizi College will stand as a beacon of knowledge, diversity, and respect, embodying the spirit of inclusivity and learning that is at the heart of Trent University.”