Dr. Leroy Little Bear (BASc '72, DASc '04) knows the importance of education and champions the pursuit of knowledge in everything he does, which is strikingly evident in his work on Indigenous Ways of Knowing and Being.
Among his many accolades—which includes being appointed to the Order of Canada and the Alberta Order of Excellence—Leroy is also the namesake for the newly opened Iikaisskini (Low Horn) Gathering Centre, a space dedicated to the advancement of Indigenous knowledge and education.
The intent of the Gathering Centre is to provide Indigenous students a space to meet with Elders and share stories, teachings and wisdom. It is a place where members of the ULethbridge community and beyond can join in ceremony, celebration and learning.
The Gathering Centre is named Iikaisskini [ee-GUS-ganee] in honour of Leroy to recognize his many contributions and services to ULethbridge and to Indigenous Peoples around the world. Iikaisskini Indigenous Services, the department that oversees operation of the Gathering Centre, is also named after Leroy, who is an adjunct professor with the Dhillon School of Business, special advisor to the President and a distinguished Niitsitapi scholar.
His influence is far-reaching. Leroy champions Indigenous Ways of Knowing and Being and continues to advance and advocate for Indigenous knowledge in higher education. His work around Indigenous rights, treaties, traditional knowledge and culture has influenced students and communities around the world.
Directly translated, Iikaisskini means Low Horn in Blackfoot, which represents the stance of the buffalo when it is getting ready to charge. As Leroy describes, the word Iikaisskini contains more meaning within it.
“Iikaisskini refers to low horn. But the real meaning of it and where the notion of low horn really comes from, is if you can picture a buffalo with its head down in attack mode, that's what the low horn really refers to.”
The buffalo holds great significance in Blackfoot culture, as Leroy explains it is a keystone species for the Blackfoot, due to the buffalo’s importance to the land and in ceremonies.
“When we're talking about Iikaisskini, it's making reference to the buffalo. The Buffalo was a very important animal in our culture. The buffalo is a keystone species with regard to the environment. Wherever the buffalo roams, it brings about ecological balance. They're so important, that we refer to them as eco-engineers,” Leroy says.
“From a cultural perspective, they're also a keystone species because of their importance to the land and importance to us. A large part of our culture, whether those are songs, stories, ceremonies and so on, are all connected to that buffalo. [Colonialism] had a horrendous impact on the land, it had a horrendous impact on traditional culture. If you look at it from that perspective, well, it becomes very, very important. It starts to come back in the return of the buffalo, it starts to bring back those other things that it does as an eco-engineer and as a socio-cultural engineer. So you can see how important that buffalo is.”
The Iikaisskini (Low Horn) Gathering Centre is an integral and unique feature of ULethbridge. It is designed as a welcoming home away from home, a space appropriate for ceremony, smudging and celebration, where students and other members of the University community can gather together and collaboratively support one another in their educational aspirations.
The Gathering Centre provides students a place to meet with Elders and share stories, teaching and wisdom. It is a vibrant and powerful cultural community where Blackfoot and other Indigenous languages are spoken, and where students can explore new knowledge together.
For Leroy, having the Centre named after him represents the importance of the buffalo to Blackfoot Peoples, as he terms education as “the new buffalo”.
“Some of our Elders talk about the buffalo as our education portal. They start to speak about education, especially university education, as the new buffalo. In my own life I've always pushed for education. To have my name associated with an institution like ULethbridge is a great honour, but more importantly, is that the legacy of the buffalo is being incorporated into the overall University culture.”
Leroy, who was a student at ULethbridge in its early years, says having a Centre like the Iikaisskini Gathering Centre can help make students feel safe, included and at home.
“When I came to university, there was no such thing as a Gathering Centre. Had there been a centre, I would have really enjoyed the place and I'd probably be running from one computer to another,” Leroy says.
“A centre like the Iikaisskini Gathering Centre starts to bring about an atmosphere of inclusion, and notions of diversity and equity all start to come into the picture. The Iikaisskini Gathering Centre serves that purpose.”
Leroy adds that though the Gathering Centre is focused to Indigenous students, he hopes that students from other backgrounds and cultures feel welcomed in the space and feel culturally safe, now and in the future.
The Iikaisskini (Low Horn) Gathering Centre is now open for students, staff and faculty to study, relax, visit with friends, family and colleagues or engage in prayer or ceremony to set their paths forward in a good way. The Centre is located in the Centre for the Arts Atrium in room W650.
The Iikaisskini (Low Horn) Gathering Centre is supported by generous donations from the Government of Alberta, the Government of Canada’s Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program (ICIP) and an investment from TD Bank Financial Group.