Skennen’kó:wa Gamig is located in a forested area on the Keele campus between the York Tipi and Osgoode Law School. It is utilized as a safe space for York’s Indigenous community to celebrate and join together, as well as share their knowledge and teachings.
Formerly known as the Hart House, it was renamed at a ceremony during National Indigenous People’s Day on June 21, 2017. The name is derived from both Mohawk and Anishinaabe languages to mean ‘The House of Great Peace.’
Per York’s website, the House is on the traditional territory of several Indigenous nations, “including the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, the Anishinabek Nation, the Huron-Wendat, the Metis Nations and the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation.”
On January 14, the House was vandalized. According to the Centre of Indigenous Student Services (CISS) Manager, Randy Pitawanakwat, several windows were smashed, acknowledging that the incident was “troubling and upsetting to the York Indigenous community.”
“Indigenous faculty members use the space for Indigenous-related teaching activities and serves as a gathering space for Indigenous student groups.”
Pitawanakwat shares that Skennen’kó:wa Gamig, along with the CISS serves in a number of functions to the Indigenous community on campus. CISS in particular provides programming for a range of activities including cultural workshops, Elder-on-Campus events and ceremonies.
The incident was deemed an “act of mischief” by York’s President Rhonda Lenton, who went on to further condemn the vandalization of Skennen’kó:wa Gamig in a statement released January 21. “Acts of violence — against persons or property — are an affront to the very spirit that Skennen’kó:wa Gamig represents. They disrupt the roots of reconciliation,” stated Lenton.
Lenton also acknowledged that the university is committed to working with the Indigenous communities at York to “repair the damage that was done.”
Regarding the incident, Pitawanakwat believes “steps in enhancing security measures need to be addressed with more lighting and cameras to prevent further incidents of vandalism.”
He echoes Lenton’s testament that the York administration has committed to consulting with members of the Indigenous Council to determine an appropriate path forward.
The Toronto Police Service are not able to comment on the progress of the investigation as it is still ongoing. Currently, it is being handled by the 31 Division along with YorkU Security and both are working together to address ongoing safety concerns for students.