New Indigenous name for RRC Polytech innovation centre aims to inspire hope, reconciliation

Winnipeg's Exchange District has officially welcomed Manitou a bi Bii daziigae to the heritage district on Wednesday, launching a new era for Red River College Polytechnic.

Manitou a bi Bii daziigae translates to 'where the creator sits and brings light'

Red River College Polytechnic's Manitou a bi Bii daziigae has been under construction at the Exchange District campus since 2018. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

Manitou a bi Bii daziigae was officially welcomed to Winnipeg's historic Exchange District on Wednesday, launching a new era for Red River College Polytechnic.

Formerly known as the innovation centre project, the $95-million, 100,000-square-foot facility has been under construction at the RRC Polytech campus since 2018.

The centre, which is intended to be hub for innovation and collaboration, opened last month, but was given its new Anishinaabemowin (Ojibway) name on Wednesday.

The name translates to "where the creator sits" (Manitou a bi) and "brings light" (Bii daziigae).

The name represents a new beginning and reflects the space and history where the building stands, said RRC Polytech president and CEO Fred Meier.

"Having this name that has so much depth and meaning really grounds us in the pursuit of the building's mission to spark transformation, ingenuity and collaboration between students and industry."

Manitou a bi Bii daziigae, seen here in an artist's rendering, is Red River College Polytechnic's innovation centre, a 100,000-square-foot hub for technology, collaboration and community. (Red River College Polytechnic)

The  college's elders in residence — Paul Guimond, whose spirit name is Okonace (Little Eagle Bone) and Una Swan (Black Eagle Woman) — held a pipe ceremony during the official opening to introduce the name and honour traditional sacred ceremony.

"To me, it means it's a place where the spirit lives, where there's light, where it's progressive, forward thinking," Swan said in a video played during a news conference Wednesday. 

"You walk into the building and you feel the energy there. It's so positive and it represents new beginnings and forward-thinking ideas that were not thought of before."

Indigenous knowledge, teachings and traditions were incorporated in the design and creation of the building to ensure Indigenous students, staff and community were represented, an RRC Polytech news release said.

That includes art by First Nations artists and functionality for ceremony, through a 210-seat roundhouse auditorium.

"Everything Indigenous people would have wanted done for this building has been done," said Swan. "All the material that could have been used from the old building was reused, it's run by the sun," she said, referring to the building's solar energy component.

The new building is powered by the sun through solar panels on the rooftop. (Red River College Polytechnic/Vimeo)

Both elders were given tours of the building to help them inform an appropriate name, and relied on their individual traditional ceremonial protocols, the college's release stated.

"The sun is such a beautiful spirit; it brings warmth, it brings growth, it brings light, it brings hope. Without that sun there is no life," Guimond said in Wednesday's video. "It's just a matter of now respecting it and giving it the name that it needs to guide that spirit."

The name also speaks to a period of reconciliation, he said.

"We're in a time of beautiful change to bring that light — that hope, and I think if we can bring the spirit of that name into that building, maybe we'll be able to take that step ahead and walk with it. 

"Reconciliation is going to be happening in that in that space without even knowing it."

Sunlight floods through the glass ceiling of Red River College Polytechnic's Manitou a bi Bii daziigae. (Red River College Polytechnic/Vimeo)

The new building has 18 classrooms and five labs for programs focused on digital media, game development, communication management, information technology, information security, data science, web development, and social innovation and community development.

Once all of the classrooms and programs are running at full capacity, Manitou a bi Bii daziigae will house 1,200 additional staff and students at the college's campus.

More about the Manitou a bi Bii daziigae naming process and the meaning can be found here.