For more than 20 years, the Indigenous Student Centre (ISC) at the University of Guelph has been a space that provides academic, cultural and personal growth for hundreds of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis students.  

This milestone will be commemorated at this year’s annual Celebration of Indigenous Achievement. Hosted by the ISC, the Celebration is a unique opportunity for Indigenous students at U of G to honour their successes with the family, friends, Elders and Knowledge Holders who have supported their educational journeys.  

As U of G continues its path toward reconciliation and decolonization, the award-winning ISC remains a cornerstone of support for Indigenous students.  

Natasha Young, a member of Whitefish River First Nation, first engaged with the ISC as a student, grateful for the support it provided. In the following years, Young has had the opportunity to journey alongside many Indigenous students in her role as the manager of the ISC. 

“I am incredibly proud of the role the ISC can have in supporting First Nations, Inuit, and Métis students,” Young says. “The growth of the ISC’s programs and supports is a direct result of the passion and dedication of past and present ISC staff and our commitment to working collaboratively with Indigenous students, campus and community partners. 

“I’m excited to celebrate this milestone and see what the future brings,” she adds. 

A gathering space for Indigenous students 

A statue of a beaver pushing its hands against a stump in front of the Indigenous Student Centre
Uhmikwahdeze “The Beaver” is a sculpture in front of the Indigenous Student Centre

In 2003, the newly established Indigenous Student Society sought to create a dedicated space for the Indigenous student community on campus, gathering First Nations, Inuit, and Métis staff, student leaders, community members and University administrators to discuss the idea. 

In the fall of that year, the Indigenous Student Centre was established as part of Student Experience. At the time, 68 students identified as Indigenous; today, that number has grown to 564 students. 

“We are proud that as a university, we have been able to work with Indigenous students to create a community where they can freely explore their identities as First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples,” says Irene Thompson, interim vice-provost (student affairs). 

“The tremendous growth and success of the Indigenous Student Centre membership and activities is a testament to the partnerships and collaborations between our staff, students and a community of Elders and Knowledge Holders.”  

Home away from home for First Nations, Inuit, and Métis students 

Elders Dan Smoke and Mary Lou Smoke post together in the snowy woods
Elders Dan and Mary Lou Smoke

Over the years, the ISC has provided a home away from home for Indigenous students, offering transition programs such as START Indigenous, community building, advising support, cultural programs and events, visits with Elders and Knowledge Holders and other social connections.   

Visiting Elders Dan Smoke, member of the Seneca Nation of the Iroquois Confederacy, and Mary Lou Smoke, of the Ojibway Nation from Batchawana Bay, have shared their culture and experiences with the campus community for more than 20 years, helping many students learn more about their own culture and traditions.  

“We have been auntie and uncle to the students and community members helping them through difficult times and showing them the power of our traditional ceremonies, medicines and songs,” they say. “We have watched the students become empowered as they became immersed in the activities and amazing atmosphere at the Indigenous Student Centre.” 

Dr. Charlotte Yates, president and vice-chancellor, says the ISC has played an integral role in advancing U of G’s commitment to reconciliation, decolonization and Indigenization, a core pillar of the Strategic Plan 

“It has been a pleasure to see the ISC serve such a crucial role for our First Nations, Inuit, and Métis students and community members,” Yates says. “By building on the success of the ISC and continuing our commitment to advancing truth and reconciliation, we remain committed to Indigenizing our institution and ensuring an inclusive environment for all.”  


Indigenous Student Centre