New sculpture at northern university, Pâkosêthimowin, named after hopes and dreams

When Martha Jonasson was growing up, she thought her grandmother didn’t know how to speak.

It wasn’t until years later when Jonasson learned the silence was because her grandmother was trying to make sure none of the grandchildren would learn Cree.

“She was trying to protect us so that we didn’t say a Cree word because we’d get strapped if we were to,” Jonasson said.

The elder shared the story with CBC on Wednesday morning only moments after a sculpture at the University College of the North (UCN) in Thompson, Man., was named Pâkosêthimowin, a Cree word that translated to hopes and dreams.

Seeing a Cree name for a sculpture at an educational institution made Jonasson emotional as she spoke about how far the educational world has come from the days when children would be strapped for speaking their traditional languages.

“The name of [Pâkosêthimowin] what it means is hopes and dreams and we’re thinking of all our young people,” Jonasson said.

The name was chosen by the entire UCN community, Jackie Fitzpatrick, UCN dean of students shared with the crowd during the Wednesday morning announcement. 

“The name was chosen with the guidance of UCN’s Council of Elders and reflects the spirit and vision we hold for our institution’s future,” Fitzpatrick said.

“The Pâkosêthimowin sculptures speak to dedication, to reconciliation, respect for diversity and the pursuit of educational opportunities.”

A silver sculpture, looks sharp and has cree writing on it.
The silver structure at UCN was named Pâkosêthimowin, a Cree word that translated to hopes and dreams. (Jenna Dulewich/CBC)

UCN has a council of elders from communities across the North. Their role is to promote an environment that respects and embraces Indigenous and northern cultures and values along with sharing traditional knowledge.

Jonasson, originally from Wabowden, has been with UCN before it was even a university in the north.

Jonasson remembers one of the first meetings in the late ’80s in Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation when elders began talking about creating a university and the importance of including Indigenous wisdom, beliefs and values.

Since the University’s accreditation, Jonasson has been a chair and vice-chair, then back to chair, then back to vice-chair.

“Now I think I’ll be stepping down to give a younger elder a chance,” she said with a laugh.

The sculpture, Pâkosêthimowin, also includes the seven sacred teachings: truth, honesty, courage, respect, wisdom, humility and love.

“I’m happy because as the child of my grandmother, who was a treaty Indian woman … she said she was a nobody because she said, ‘I don’t belong in a white man’s world,'” Jonasson said.

“Now when I see these things, I hope and pray that someday the truth and reconciliation will happen because we can say what we want but if we don’t walk to talk, it won’t happen.”