When Diane Longboat founded First Nations House in 1992, she wanted to create a “culturally relevant hub” for Indigenous students at the University of Toronto.
As it celebrates 25 years as that cultural hub, First Nations House has become a “home away from home” for many Indigenous and non-Indigenous students.
"We know who we are and we want to know who you are,” said Jackie Esquimaux-Hamlin, the recently retired resource centre co-ordinator for First Nations House, in an interview with CBC News.
"It's like home. A safe spot here, you can be yourself, your Anishinaabe self, or Haudenosaunee self, and you know that's where the people are," she said.
Located on Spadina Avenue in the North Borden Building, First Nations House – or “FNH” as it is sometimes referred to – provides a space on the downtown campus to learn about Indigenous knowledges and traditional teachings, attend events, socialize, seek guidance from Elders and access financial and academic supports.
"Everyone is like a family," Jaime Kearns, an Indigenous studies and archaeology student, told the CBC.
Kearns, a member of the Chippewas of the Thames First Nation, said she goes to FNH to use the computer lab or to smudge when she’s feeling stressed out.
Shannon Simpson, director of Aboriginal Student Services, told CBC that one of the main goals of FNH is to provide a safe home on campus for students “It’s the students’ space, so whatever they need, we’ll try and get that happening,” she said,
First Nations House has been marking its quarter-century anniversary on campus with events beginning last January, from Indigenous Education Week and Elders’ symposium to a digital archive and commemorative book documenting FNH’s history.