Installation remarks: Claudette Commanda, Chancellor, University of Ottawa

Claudette Commanda, Chancellor of uOttawa on stage in ceremonial robe accepting round of applause.
I am very honoured to celebrate this day with our graduates from the faculty that provided my legal education: the University of Ottawa Faculty of Law, Common Law Section. I remember years ago sitting in the same place as you are today, excited, happy and anxiously waiting for the next journey in a legal career. I am sure you these years at law school will be highlights for you as they were for me.

It is a blessing to have my husband Stewart, my five children and my 10 grandchildren, along with many family members from Kitigan Zibi; relatives from other Algonquin communities; and many friends from coast to coast to coast to celebrate with me, as I embark on a new highlight of my life’s journey. 

Honour and love. I know my parents, my siblings and grandparents who are not here in body, but they certainly are in spirit. I thank my loved ones, my maternal and paternal grandparents who helped to raise me, mentored me and taught me how to listen and how to use my voice and my parents for their love and instilling responsibility and strength.   

They would be so proud today, especially my mother. I walk with honour for my mother. I dedicate these words to my loved ones who are in the spirit world; and honour my maternal grandfather who gave me the first love and encouragement, Paddy Chausse, affectionally known as “Daa-da”.  

I thank my children and grandchildren for sharing their mother and grandmother with the world.

I thank my partner for his enduring support he gives every day. 

I thank my relatives and friends for your love and belief in me. 

Changes at uOttawa

My time at uOttawa as a student (and as professor) was transformational, helping me to acquire the knowledge and skills I needed to contribute to both my home community and to this vibrant, multi-lingual and diverse university community, and to the world at large.

I have witnessed this institution transform just as students are transformed into a world of acquired knowledge, experience and learning. I witness 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. 

The University of Ottawa is a different place than when I arrived here in 1987. Back then, there were not many First Nation | Indigenous people on this campus, or much information about Indigenous people, definitely there was no knowledge or awareness about Algonquin people. As well, the university did not have places or groups to provide for or build a sense of belonging for First Nations | Indigenous students at this university.

I was not surprised by this reality, but yet, I was sad. I felt like a stranger in my own homeland. You are all aware the University of Ottawa sits on the unceded homeland of my people, the Algonquin Nation. 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 was done, here we are today a relationship with Algonquin people.

Since my time as a student, uOttawa has changed. There is still has more to be done, but it has made headway in addressing Indigenous people and issues. The university is updating its Indigenous Action Plan, which was co-created with people both inside and outside of the university to promote First Nations, Inuit and Metis people and their culture at uOttawa.

uOttawa has also supported the development of several bodies and programs to promote place and voice, and a sense of belonging for Indigenous students and employees, such as 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. These are just a few examples of other Indigenous initiatives of uOttawa to show how the university has come a long way in a relatively short time, and I must mention, these are not initiatives of tokenism, these and the new initiatives to come, contain the spirit of respect and the intent of reconciliation. 

My hopes as chancellor

I mentioned earlier the importance of my grandparents in my upbringing. 

My grandmother taught me patience. She said if you want something done right, take the time to get it right. And, let no one take away your strength.

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 - 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. 

While uOttawa is moving ahead, we are not the only university in Canada working to support and embrace Indigenous people and knowledges, quite frankly, there are other institutions that have accomplished more. This is why, in the time I am Chancellor, my vision and mission is for uOttawa to be the lead through innovative actions – actions inclusive of First Nation / Indigenous people, histories, wisdom, truths and experiences. 

It is my goal to engage with the University community to:

  • Promote the first language of this area: the Algonquin language.
  • Support language revitalization of indigenous languages.
  • Have “learning circles”.
  • Have “tea time” with the Chancellor.
  • To promote our University world wide as the grand ‘university’ in diversity, in Indigenous knowledge
Claudette Commanda, Chancellor of uOttawa signing book alongside President Jacques Frémont and Elders.

This is an important time in uOttawa’s 175-year-old history – a time to not only look back but to look ahead at how we can build a more inclusive place for all students, to celebrate diversity; to embrace and respect the fundamental values and contributions of Indigenous people, to action reconciliation between Indigenous people and Canadians.

I am truly honoured and blessed to be the Chancellor at this time because uOttawa has developed in ways that I believe is transforming into a university community that will benefit from its multi-lingual and diverse population even more in the future.

As I noted earlier, 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. 

Transformation is not just about change. It is about sowing seeds in an environment to build and foster even greater change for the future.

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. Our Ancestors always prayed for us, as we continue to pray for the seven generations, our future. We call on our Ancestors for guidance and strength to continue sowing seeds for positive change for our children – all children matter. We must believe in the beauty of transformation.  

I believe this for First Nations, Metis and Inuit people. I believe this for our university community. I believe this for our country.

Thank you to the University of Ottawa for embracing me, asking me to be Chancellor and giving my heart such joy.

I thank each one of you for joining me today at the start of my journey as Chancellor; let us walk together on the road of transformation leading to continuous success as educators, learners, colleagues and community.  

Let the University of Ottawa be guided by the Seven Grandfathers - our laws as Anishinabe people: Love, Respect, Wisdom, Courage, Humility, Honesty and Truth.

Chi Meegwech. Merci. Thank you.

Claudette Commanda, Chancellor, University of Ottawa