Providing Care During the Pandemic: Dr. Debby Wilson Danard raises a Lodge on U of T grounds
By Perry King
September 28, 2023
During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Debby Wilson Danard, a graduate from the OISE class of 2016, raised Askaakamigokwe-wigamig (Ah-skaw-kom-ih-goh-kweh-whi-gah-mig, the Mother Earth Learning Lodge) on the grounds of New College at the University of Toronto.
The concern was the emotional well-being and physical safety of faculty and students present on the St. George campus, including those living in residence at New College. The Lodge ensured open air, physically distanced learning on the land and space for Indigenous knowledge, teachings and ceremony as an essential aspect of learning.
“To raise a lodge is to bring it to life. The lodge teaches us how to rebuild community and how that happens when we are in good relations with the land and practicing reciprocity with everything that is alive,” says Danard.
To strengthen the physical connection to our original ways of life, Danard – in her role as New College Provost Postdoctoral Fellow from 2019 to 2021 and in partnership with the Principal of New College, Dr. Bonnie McElhinny – raised the lodge to support current and future Indigenous students during that time of great isolation.
This aligns with Danard’s commitment to “strengthening life bundles” as a Traditional Knowledge Practitioner and Indigenous Life Promotion Ambassador. In following her heart and tobacco offerings, she sought direction from her Elders: Jim Dumont (an internationally renowned Elder, speaker and traditional knowledge keeper, also known as the Gichi A:ya: “the Elder of the Elders” in the Eastern Doorway of the Three Fires Midewiwin Lodge), Gertie Beaucage (a member of the Bear Clan raised at Nipissing First Nation and third degree member of the Three First Society) and Jeff Monague (an Ojibwe Language teacher, musician, traditional knowledge keeper and leader from the Beausoleil First Nation on Christian Island).
In the 2021/2022 academic year, Danard worked with Virtual Grounds: Platform and Trinity Square Video and Digital Justice Lab to complete an independent research project – resulting in the following video honouring Askaakamigokwe-wigamig and the relationship developed throughout the journey and to give voice to the Lodge: