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By Joanne Harris

The Indigenous Student Resource Centre (ISRC) is welcoming new and returning Indigenous students studying at the St. John’s campus to a new home: Juniper House.

On the afternoon of Tuesday, Sept. 28, members of the Memorial community, special guests, Elders, and knowledge keepers gathered for an open house event.

Elders offered greetings and prayers, smudged and lit the kullik. Musicians drummed and performed throat singing; guests were offered refreshments including tomato juniper soup and a gift of handmade juniper soap.

But, as much as guests are welcome, the overarching purpose of Juniper House is to serve Indigenous students’ needs.

Two people, including Indigenous student Draco Dunphy at right, remove a white cloth from a sign that says "Juniper House" in front of a house with brown and brick cladding.
A Juniper House sign is revealed in front of the newly opened Indigenous Student Resource Centre on Elizabeth Avenue in St. John’s. From left are students Holly Tait and Draco Dunphy.
Photo: Rich Blenkinsopp

Located at 208 Elizabeth Ave. in a former private residence, Juniper House used to be known as the Butler property. The house was retrofitted to accommodate the services and programming the ISRC offers to Indigenous students and to provide students with multifunctional gathering and study spaces.

Juniper House has a social room, computer lab, eat-in kitchen, Elders’ space, multimedia room and office space.

The design was thoughtfully crafted through consultation with students, Elders and knowledge keepers who envisioned a space that would feel like a home away from home.

“As an Indigenous student, I am very pleased with the new space for the ISRC,” said Liam Watts, a second-year engineering student from Happy Valley-Goose Bay.

“It has a welcoming feel, with each room designed with Indigenous art, traditions and culture in mind. The study spaces are great, too, and the computer and printing services are helpful. I will definitely be back to do some of my online work there.”

Three drummers stand in a circle and sing into a microphone in front of a brown building on a sun-dappled lawn.
From left are drummers and singers Holly Tait, Marie Eastman (back on) and Veronica Madsen at Juniper House.
Photo: Rich Blenkinsopp

Student-led initiative

The centre’s previous site was a single room in the University Centre where students socialized, studied, attended programming and made use of services such as tutoring.

A more suitable space was obviously needed. This was accomplished through the work of a dedicated student-led initiative.

Memorial alumnae Lindsay Batt (BSW’20) and Ona (BSW’20), who were involved in the visioning of Juniper House, say the need for an improved space for Indigenous students was critical.

“This increased space will allow us to … carry out many of the actions recommended in Memorial’s Strategic Framework for Indigenization.” — Catharyn Andersen

“The ISRC is a crucial space where Indigenous students, especially those from rural areas, can connect, build upon their sense of identity and find a place where they are represented and belong,” said Ms. Batt.

“The numbers of students and services have grown, and finally so has our ‘home away from home.’”

Ona concurs.

“Indigenous Peoples at Memorial share a diverse and distinct community kinship,” said Ona, who does not use a surname.

“Indigenous advocacy for Juniper House centred on the urgent and necessary need for a place on campus where more than 700 Indigenous Peoples at Memorial could identify, culturally interconnect and belong interdependently.”

Longstanding recommendation

The creation of a dedicated and visually defined Indigenous space at Memorial University speaks to a changing climate focused on Indigenization and reconciliation.

A drummer uses a wooden mallet on a circular drum in front of a building with brown cladding.
The sounds of Tama Fost’s drum and throat singing welcomed guests to the opening of Juniper House on Sept. 28.
Photo: Rich Blenkinsopp

According to Catharyn Andersen, vice-president (Indigenous) at Memorial the move addresses a longstanding recommendation.

“This increased space will allow us to more effectively carry out many of the actions recommended in Memorial’s Strategic Framework for Indigenization, including supporting Indigenous student success and engaging with Indigenous community members,” Ms. Andersen said.

“Juniper House is a stepping stone to Indigenous House, a project that we are still actively working towards.”

An Elder drums and sings as part of the opening of Juniper House.
Elder Max Penashue drums and sings as part of the opening of Juniper House.
Photo: Rich Blenkinsopp

‘Energy and spirit’

There is still a great deal of work to be done in the pursuit of Indigenization, and to better support Indigenous students, but Juniper House is a strong step forward, says Ms. Batt.

“I hope our Elders, students, faculties and the broader community feel warm and welcome in this space, and that it stands as the first step towards decolonizing Memorial and honouring our Indigenous ancestors.”

With Juniper House, Ona says, Indigenous identity now has a “place of presence” within a campus on Indigenous territory that sends a clear message of welcome and that Indigenous students are being considered in anticipation of increased Indigenous student enrolment.

“I hope Juniper House is a place of traditional ecological knowledge and that all previous and current Indigenous advocates can appreciate the outcome of the effort and energy they offered – it is our energy and spirit that will make Juniper House a home.”

For a video tour of Juniper House and to hear from Indigenous Elders who visited for the first time, watch the video below.


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