Underneath the Star Blanket

Exploring campus resources offered in the Helen Betty Osborne Building

The Helen Betty Osborne Building houses the Wii Chiiwaakanak Learning Centre, a hub of resources that puts Indigenous and inner-city communities in connection with the University of Winnipeg.

Angeline Nelson, the director of community learning and engagement at the Learning Centre, translates Wii Chiiwaakanak to “walking together,” though it has many meanings to different tribes.

“Wii Chiiwaakanak is an Ojibwe term, and it is important to represent the Indigenous people on whose land we are on,” Nelson says. “Thinking about the people that we serve, which is a highly Indigenous population, it is also important to represent Indigenous peoples and languages.”

Nelson wants the community to know that the Learning Centre is always thinking of what they can do to be a good neighbour. The Wii Chiiwaakanak Learning Centre was initially created 11 years ago to give computer access to members of the community.

Today, the Learning Centre offers much more than just computers, printing and faxing services, including educational programs in Indigenous language and culture.

“We have a duty as an educational institution to provide opportunities for Indigenous peoples to regain their language.” Nelson lists Ojibwe, Cree and Dakota as language classes that are offered.

In addition, a women’s self-defence class was offered recently.

“Usually we have about 50 spots for a class, and within a week of posting it, the class was full,” Nelson says. She adds the program will be continuously offered.

On Aug. 18, the block party that celebrated the new Star Blanket Mural added to the Helen Betty Osborne Building garnered 500 to 700 guests.

Nelson shares her experience with what the Star Blanket means to her as an Indigenous person.

“There are often Indigenous leaders, elders or individuals that would be recognized through ceremony for the work they’ve done in the community.” Nelson describes that these individuals are often physically wrapped in a Star Blanket, as the stars are an important protective symbol in Indigenous culture.

“Thinking about this and seeing the building wrapped in a Star Blanket is inspiring, as the Star Blanket Mural Project is carried out in honou r of missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and Two-Spirit people,” Nelson says. “Helen Betty Osborne was a murdered Indigenous woman, so it’s very inspiring to see this mural on our building.”

Dylan Armitage, a former program assistant at the Learning Centre, believes the new mural is a great change to the building that is long overdue.

“Wii Chii is a place that strives to make students and the surrounding community feel safe and empowered in whatever they’re doing,” he says. “I think the new mural is a perfect representation of that.”

Armitage is hoping that the new mural does more to make people curious about the Learning Centre.

“I’m surprised to find that so many people on campus have no idea what goes on inside that building.” He believes that more access to information about Wii Chii on campus would go a long way.

Nelson wants the community to know that the programs are available and free. “People come in and ask, ‘is this program free?’ And the answer is, of course, yes. You’re welcome to come in and register.”

Published in Volume 73, Number 1 of The Uniter (September 6, 2018)

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