A beautifully constructed Cultural Space at Portage College’s Lac La Biche campus is ready for its grand opening thanks to the Government of Canada’s Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program (ICIP) grant. Portage received $32,000 from the ICIP grant and $68,000 in matching contributions through College funds and external donations.
Named Waniskah ᐊᐧᓂᐢᑲᐦ, the room will serve as a concrete and spiritual centerpiece for our students, staff and community. Waniskah means “arise, wake up and rise” and was chosen to reflect the waking up to ways of change and Indigenous Ways of Knowing.
Supporting the Truth and Reconciliation calls to action, Waniskah will offer a safe and welcoming space where Indigenous and non-Indigenous students and community members can learn and heal.
Waniskah ᐊᐧᓂᐢᑲᐦ Space before the addition of the mikiwahp (tipi) painted mural.
“Many thanks go out about the Cultural Space including to the Government of Canada for their generous infrastructure funding,” said Bev Moghrabi, Vice President of Student and College Services. “As well, we couldn’t have done it without the Government of Alberta managing the reporting requirements of the ICIP Grant. We also need to recognize Lac La Biche Canadian Native Friendship Centre and Lac La Biche County for their support during the application stage of this Infrastructure Project.”
External funding has contributed over $23,000 to the Cultural Space. Cenovus Energy donated $12,500, and the Students’ Association of Portage College (SAPC) donated $1,500. $1,075 was also raised through the Resource One Aboriginal Business Association (ROABA) Golf Tournament Raffle, and the Portage College Athletics Association Cultural Space Raffle raised over $8,000.
“The student council feels this venue will provide an important role in the lives and education of our students,” said SAPC President, Katelynn Manuel.
The Cultural Space design turned out so well due to the work of the Design Committee which consisted of many voices and perspectives to form the vision of the space. Community, students, Elders, artists, staff, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous, worked together to realize the vision for a space that would honour ceremony for many generations.
Commissioned artists and Portage College Alumni Amber Weasel Head and Jamie John-Kehewin helped to raise the Cultural Space’s mikiwahp concept (tipi). The Mikiwahp (tipi concept) is comprised of 4 poles and a hand painted liner traditionally used to create convection which helped with circulating airflow and an extra layer of protection from the elements.
Weasel Head and John-Kehewin included students in the Xpressions Arts & Design Program, through Trible Chiefs Employment & Training Services Association, a program that both Weasel Head and John-Kehewin facilitate.
Painting the liner mural as well as a mikiwahp (tipi raising workshop) included artists Terence McGilvery, Desiree Kehewin, Mabel Shirt, Sekoya Weasel Head-Kehewin, Nature Memnook, Lavada Memnook, and Adrien Gladue.
Mural Artists. Back Row: Terrence McGilvery, Amber Weasel Head, Mabel Shirt. Front Row: Lavada Memnook, Sekoya Weasel Head-Kehewin. Not pictured: Desiree Kehewin and Jamie John-Kehewin.
“Mikiwahp is interpreted in the Nehiyaw (Cree) cultural knowledge and understanding as a ‘sanctuary which was gifted in the most holy sacred way’; it is a sanctuary for raising a family and a safe place for our children,” explains John-Kehewin. “The liner depicts living one with mother earth and the passing of those teachings from one generation to the next since time immemorial.”
The raising of the Cultural Space mikiwahp (tipi) was a ceremonial event that included Elder Alex Redcrow, artists, students, and staff to commemorate the importance and the meaning of the mikiwahp (tipi) sanctuary.
Mikiwahp (tipi) within the Waniskah Space with liner/mural completed by commissioned artists from Xpressions Arts & Design Program.
“We are very honoured to be included through sharing ideas, harvesting the poles, collaborating the mural and setting up the mikiwahp with our students,” said Weasel Head. “The teachings create an essence of connection through stories, arts, language and culture. We see the Cultural Space to provide a place for connections, share ideas and provide a space of understanding and healing.”
When asked about how the Cultural Space turned out, Moghrabi praised the talents of the College infrastructure team, the artists and all the people behind the collaboration to bring the space together. “They brought the vision to reality and it’s an amazingly beautiful space. You can feel the combined efforts and pride that has gone into its creation,” she said.
A small group will be invited to attend the grand opening of the space that will include a pipe ceremony to bless the new Cultural Space. Afterward, the Cultural Space will be bookable for small events and training by the community through Portage’s Conferencing department.
Jaime Davies, Corporate Communications Manager
780-623-5581 or email