Senate celebrates 175 years of meetings, acknowledges Indigenous traditions

March 7 will now be known as “First Class Day” at Queen’s

Nathan Brinklow delivering the opening address in Kanyen’kéha (Mohawk).
Photo supplied by Queen's Communications

This Tuesday, a procession of Senators donned in historic academic robes entered the special 175th Senate meeting in Wallace Hall, while the sound of bagpipes carried throughout the JDUC.

On March 7, 1842, exactly 175 years ago this Tuesday, the first Queen’s students arrived at a house at 67 Colborne St. to begin their studies. That same day, the first meeting of the Senate granted them their admission.

This week’s special meeting of the Senate set out both to celebrate 175 years of Queen’s classes and Senate meetings, as well to “provide the opportunity to take an important step in building good relations with our partners in the Indigneous communities,” Principal Daniel Woolf told those in attendance.

Nathan Brinklow, a Queen’s Languages, Literature and Cultures professor specializing in Mohawk language and culture, delivered the opening address in Kanyen’kéha (Mohawk).

The Mohawk Clan Mothers of Kingston then presented Queen’s with a friendship wampum. A wampum, Brinklow explained, is a type of belt traditionally used to solidify and strengthen an agreement between two parties.

In this case, the wampum represents a mutual commitment between Queen’s and its Indigenous communities to “recognize and revitalize a relationship that hasn’t always been healthy or beneficial,” Brinklow said.

According to Principal Daniel Woolf, the wampum will now be present at every Senate meeting as a reminder of their agreement and of the fact that these meetings take place on traditional Indigenous lands.

The presentation of the wampum was followed by a performance by the Whispering Wind Drum Group.

After the drum performance, Woolf made a statement acknowledging the University’s role in perpetuating the suffering of Indigenous people by participating in extremely harmful colonial traditions in the past.

Woolf also acknowledged the University’s failure to “educate our students on the deep history of [these] conflicts”, including the content of treaties and the relocation of Indigenous people from their traditional lands.

“This lack of historical knowledge has had serious consequences,” Woolf said. “The Queen’s community can and must change the narrative by taking steps to ensure that Indigenous histories are shared.”

Woolf concluded his speech by thanking the Indigenous elders, students, staff and communities who have helped guide the efforts of the Truth and Reconciliation Task Force, which will be releasing a report with recommendations for reconciliation in just a few weeks.

The Kingston town crier, Chris Whyman, then gave a traditional proclamation reminding those in attendance of the first Senate meeting that took place 175 years ago, and explaining that “history and tradition are the cornerstone and standard of Queen’s University.”

“Congratulations on 175 years, here ends this proclamation,” Whyman concluded.

The Senate approved a motion to name March 7 ‘First Class Day’ at Queen’s, in celebration of the matriculation of the first class of students at the first ever Senate meeting in 1842.

Paul Banfield, a university archivist, gave a speech about the Queen’s Royal Charter, which was signed in 1841 and gave Queen Victoria’s royal assent to create Queen’s.

“Queen’s has the distinction of being only one of 10 royal charter universities,” Banfield said.

The royal charter, which consists of three ornately bordered pages tied together by ribbon, was on display throughout the course of the meeting.

The Senators adjourned the meeting and posed for a group photo in their traditional attire.

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