Claudette Commanda channels the past as she embarks on journey as University of Ottawa’s 1st Indigenous Chancellor


By Paul Logothetis

Media Relations Agent, Media Relations, External Relations

uOttawa Chancellor Claudette Commanda
Claudette Commanda, an Algonquin Anishinaabe from the Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg First Nation, is the university’s 15th chancellor with roots that run deep on campus.

For Claudette Commanda, channeling the past will help guide her ambitions as the University of Ottawa’s first Indigenous Chancellor in its 175-year history.

Ms. Commanda, an Algonquin Anishinaabe from the Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg First Nation, is the university’s 15th – and third female – chancellor with roots that run deep on campus.

She first arrived at uOttawa in 1987 as a law student, a faculty where she would go on to establish a distinguished teaching career. Throughout, Ms. Commanda has been a proactive voice of transformation on campus, particularly involved in the establishment of the university’s Indigenous Action Plan, which weaves through all sectors of the university to promote First Nations, the Inuit’s and Metis, and their proud cultures.

“My grandfather, William Commanda, taught me to use my “commanding” voice, to stand proud, to stand strong – ‘do not let anyone take your voice, or silence you’ and those who know me have witnessed the result of that.

“I will use that voice in the coming years as Chancellor, to support Indigenous students, to promote all students; to educate, to build community between the university and Indigenous people, to continue raising awareness about Algonquin people, our identity, our language, our land; and to build a relationship with all people through listening, learning and sharing.”

Ms. Commanda has witnessed the university’s transformation firsthand over the past 36 years, helping to lend a voice to all cultures and ethnic groups on campus. The sense of belonging she has helped foster has seen the arrival of important initiatives like the Indigenous Resource Centre; the Indigenous Education Council; Office of Indigenous Affairs; the Institute of Indigenous Research; the Faculty of Law’s Aboriginal Law and Indigenous Legal Traditions certificate and the new Living, Learning Community in Thompson Residence opening this fall. 

This embrace of Indigenous culture and respect of the Algonquin people hasn’t always been easy but it has always been far from “tokenism” at the University of Ottawa, in her estimation. 

“The University of Ottawa sits on the unceded homeland of my people, the Algonquin Nation, yet I felt like a stranger in my own homeland. I remember telling myself ‘This will change, in time, this university will know whose land they are on, and who are the Algonquin people’. And so, it has.

“This is a different place than when I arrived in 1987, when there were not many First Nation | Indigenous people on this campus, or much information about Indigenous people, there was no knowledge or awareness about Algonquin people. There were no places or groups to provide for or build a sense of belonging.

“Since then, I have witnessed this institution transform just as students are transformed into a world of acquired knowledge, experience, and learning. I have witnessed this university respect and understand the truth and lived experiences of First Nation people, embrace Indigenous culture, and importantly respect the Algonquin people, our history, our land, our life.” 

Ms. Commanda knows more work must still be done and that it won’t be easy. But in her role as Chancellor, she expects to push forward innovative and visionary transformation of an inclusive, diverse and grand university.

“My relationship with uOttawa has helped to transform the University’s understanding about the Algonquin Nation and Indigenous people, our rights, our history, our culture, and our land. But transformation isn’t just about change. It’s also about sewing the seeds for future change.

“My parents and grandparents said listen and be patient. In time, what needs to take place will happen. Transformation takes time. However, with vision, patience, determination and faith, change will always come. We must believe in the beauty of transformation.”