Claudette Commanda, an Algonquin Anishinaabe elder of the Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg First Nation, has been named Chancellor of the University of Ottawa.
She is the first Indigenous person and only the third woman to hold the position in the school’s 174-year history. She will succeed Calin Rovinescu when his second term ends this fall.
“This means honor, pride and happiness to me, but it also means bringing affirmation and recognition that Algonquin people have so much to contribute, and we will continue to contribute,” Commanda said on Thursday. “I am very humbled, very honored and very happy.”
Commanda, 66, said she was committed a long time ago to giving back to the university because it was always supportive.
“I know the University of Ottawa is committed to reconciliation. It is committed to the calls to action and to building the right relationship with and supporting indigenous peoples, and I will use the position to continue the work I have done to raise awareness.”
Commanda cited a sentiment she had long heard from the elderly, including her grandfather William Commanda: Education got us into this mess and education will get us out of this mess. Similarly, she invoked the spirit of Chief Dan George, who said in his critical Lament for Confederation speech in 1967, “I will seize the tools of the white man’s success—his education, his skills, and with this new tools I will build my race in the proudest segment of your society.”
“So let’s build that foundation of respect and understanding between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people and students,” Commanda said.
Commanda’s relationship with uOttawa goes back 35 years, when she first started school as a student in 1987.
She founded a First Nations sorority to help improve their representation at the school and established an indigenous resource center now known as the Mashkawazìwogamig Indigenous Resource Center.
Commanda has an arts degree in history and religious studies from the school, as well as a law degree. In 2009 she was inducted into the Common Law Honor Society.
She taught at uOttawa’s Institute of Women’s Studies, the Faculty of Law and the Faculty of Education. With the Indigenous Studies program, she taught courses on First Nations Women, Native Education, First Nations people and history, and Indigenous traditions and decolonization.
Five years ago, she became the first ever Elder in Residence to be appointed to the Faculty of Law at the University of Ottawa. She was also special adviser on reconciliation to the dean of the Faculty of Law. She is the first heritage member of the First Nation to be appointed to the university’s board of directors.
As Executive Director of the First Nations Confederacy of Cultural Centers, she also received the 2020 Indspire Award for Culture, Heritage and Spirituality.
“She will continue to bring her leadership, passion and wisdom, on behalf of indigenous peoples, to the university as a whole,” said uOttawa President and Vice Chancellor Jacques Frémont.