Indigenous students at Western University are walking onto a more inclusive campus this semester.

Up to 10 people are part of a new pilot project that incorporates cultural education into the everyday lives of local First Nations, Metis and Inuit students.

They live on a residence floor that will have an Indigenous focus the entire school year. 

The University's housing department has partnered with Indigenous Services for the pilot project designed to keep students connected to their roots, all while in the comfort of their new accommodations, explained Peggy Wakabayashi, who's the associate vice-president of housing at Western. 

"Western recognizes and values the significant historical and contemporary contributions of local and regional First Nations peoples and all of the original peoples," she said. "We're trying to celebrate and honour some of the Indigenous populations in our area and work closely with them."

Students who live in Delaware Hall will meet with elders every two weeks to learn Indigenous tradition, language and history. They will also participate in cultural ceremonial celebrations. 

London is nestled between eight First Nations communities in southwestern Ontario including Chippewas, Oneida and Munsee-Delaware First Nations.

Summer Thorp

(Paula Duhatschek/CBC News)

Safe space

Summer Thorp is a program coordinator at Nokee Kwe, an education centre that aims to empower indigenous communities through cultural education in London.

She said some Indigenous students drop out of post-secondary schooling because they feel isolated.

"Creating a safe space for students to come back, to where they feel comfortable, is very important," she said. "I see the anxiety and concerns about moving to a new environment and leaving their communities."

About 90 per cent of first-year Western University students living on campus are below the age of 18. Thorp said an Indigenous-focused residence could help young students balance academic expectations and cultural norms.

"To ... have everyday practices that are part of daily, weekly, monthly lives and to be divorced from that because you've gone to school can be really disorienting," she explained. 

In 2018, Western University is set to dedicate an entire floor at Delaware Hall to both Indigenous students and allies to live and learn together.

"In order to be doing that reconciliation on a one-to-one level is a better starting point than downloading content in a curriculum."