Claudette Commanda Elder in Faculty of Law residence. Photo: Courtesy of the University of Ottawa.
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Students eager to welcome alumna Claudette Commanda to new role

The University of Ottawa announced they were hiring an Indigenous elder on Aug 14, 2017 to provide guidance and advice to Indigenous students in the Faculty of Law.

The elder, Claudette Commanda, is an Algonquin Anishinabe from the Kitigan Zibi First Nation and a U of O alumna. She is also the first person to hold the position as an elder in residence at the university.

The U of O’s Indigenous Law Student Association (ILSA) first brought the idea of having an elder in residence to the Faculty of Law this past March, as a way to enhance and enrich Indigenous students’ experiences at the university through cultural, social, and career focused events

According to Renee Martin, president of the ILSA, the university administration was “proactive at making sure it happened.”

“With having an elder in residence … it will give first years and the upper years someone to turn to when they need more of that emotional help,” said Martin.

Commanda was chosen for the position because of her vibrant presence in the Indigenous community. “I think when everyone was thinking of an elder in residence, she was definitely the first choice,” said Martin. “She’s great, she’s super enthusiastic.”

Aside from Commanda’s new post, the university also created an Indigenous affairs coordinator position within the Faculty of Law last year for students to help them navigate their classes, careers, and finances.

Also currently available to  Indigenous students on campus is the Aboriginal resource center is located on 1 Stewart St., which “provides a cultural space where people can go and be immersed in a space they know they’re gonna be welcomed,” said to Martin.

Despite these resources, it wasn’t until the request for the elder that the ILSA felt that they had a place to get emotional and culturally relevant support, specifically related to law school.

“We come from different experiences and circumstances than a lot of the other law students,” said Martin.

Moving forward, Martin and her peers hope to see the university and the faculty incorporate more Indigenous content into curriculum, to “enrich the conversation (they) are having.”

Martin believes there needs to be “a better understanding of anti-colonialism and anti-racism from the entire environment,” as “law school is very colonially driven environment.”

“There is still a long way to go to recognizing, from a legal perspective, that Indigenous people have laws and that they are worth learning,” said Martin.