The planned Nokom’s House, an Indigenous land-based lab to be built in the U of G Arboretum, will be a “grandmother-centred” space for research, community engagement, land-based activities and ceremony. The site will encompass gardens, a sacred fire, ceremonial grounds and a granny’s cabin/research hub for visiting, cooking, creative work and retreats.
Nokom’s House team members will collaborate with community “grandmothers” on research projects that advance wellness for humans and the natural world, contributing to truth, reconciliation and decolonization in the University community and beyond.
The lab will focus on relationships, says U of G alumna Jennifer Shepherd, who graduated in 1997 with an honours B.A.Sc. in consumer studies. Now living in Ottawa, she is owner and a creative partner of Living Tapestries, a business that works with creative and resourceful partners to create healthy systems and organizations drawing on design thinking, facilitation methods and the arts.
“Relationships are how we move, how we make meaning, and how we nurture and sustain life,” says Shepherd. “So much of the intention and life behind Nokom’s House is deeply aligned with what I care about, what I stand for and what I want to support and nourish moving forward."
While at U of G, she received the Harshman Scholarship, supported by the H.H. Harshman Foundation. The scholarship made a big difference to her, and she always knew she would one day support a future student.
Initially, she thought she would leave a legacy through her will. But why wait? “There is such an urgency to dramatically change how we relate with Earth as our home, with each other, with our ancestors, with all our relations – and cherish all of life."
In 2019, Jennifer made her largest-ever philanthropic donation to support Nokom’s House. As the inaugural donor to the project, she trusts that other alumni and community members will also be inspired to support the lab and the holistic vision for this community learning space.
She says the project recognizes elders as wisdom keepers and involves collaboration across generations.
“I think about how my mother and grandmothers influenced who I am and how they and those who came before them chose to create life. Their teachings and their choices are their legacy, and it is up to me to honour these teachings and pass them on.
“For example, one of my grandmothers taught me to save for the future and my other grandmother taught me to spend and invest in what I care about. It brings me great joy to invest my savings in Nokom’s House so others may enjoy learning across generations in relationship with the land and community.”
The new lab will also emphasize learning in female-centered kitchen table environments.
“I appreciate the value of these types of kitchen table environments as important places of learning,” says Shepherd. “Early in my visual facilitation career, I hosted graphic jams around my kitchen table while I was learning to draw concepts. Having a safe space to be vulnerable and to offer and receive support helped me learn while having fun getting to know friends and colleagues better.”
She says she began her own journey of reconciliation and conciliation in late 2018, when Indigenous arts activator Jaime Morse invited her to take the 5-5-5 Fishscale Pledge. The pledge involves completing five tasks on five topics: First Nations, Inuit, Métis, Truth and Reconciliation, and Self.
“It’s really all about taking action. I took the pledge to understand more about Indigenous issues and peoples and to explore my own roots along the way. Creating a relationship with Nokom’s House is one way I am connecting with self, looking at my place in the world and how I can be supporting right relationships with all of our relations.” Development of the new lab is being led by Profs. Kim Anderson, Department of Family Relations and Applied Nutrition; Sheri Longboat, School of Environmental Design and Rural Development; and Brittany Luby, Department of History.
“Nokom’s House is bringing three strong women from across different disciplines in the University together and creating not just the space, but the container for learning,” says Shepherd. “I found that this was the perfect opportunity for me to stand up, stand in and really make a contribution.”
Says Anderson, “I’m really grateful for Jennifer’s contribution, not just the financial but also her contribution to the spirit of the house, which came through so clearly in the conversation I had with her about it. Jennifer deeply appreciates our vision of creating a space for healing, nurturing and knowledge production through Indigenous relational practice.”
For more information, visit csahs.uoguelph.ca/alumni-friends/our-funding-priorities/funding-priority-nokoms-house.
Illustration by Amina Lalor