$40,000 TransAlta gift supports Indigenous Housing Program

Tipi and outdoor upgrades enrich living space


TransAlta Indigenous Family Tipi.

The new TransAlta Indigenous Family Tipi, located near the Indigenous Housing Program residences on the east side of campus, now serves as a focal point for ceremonies, celebrations and informal gatherings while also helping to reinforce a sense of home for the students and families of the program.


A $40,000 gift from TransAlta is helping create a more culturally enriching and family-friendly space for the students and families of Mount Royal’s Indigenous Housing Program (IHP). The donation includes a 25-foot Blackfoot-style tipi, outdoor furnishings and funds for future programming.

Run through the Iniskim Centre, the IHP provides students who self-identify as First Nations, Métis, Non-status or Inuit with affordable individual or family housing and cultural, academic and social supports.

“It has been a significant program in bridging barriers, closing gaps, increasing retention and contributing to Indigenous student success,” says Steve Kootenay-Jobin, events and housing coordinator for the Iniskim Centre.

The impetus for the TransAlta gift stemmed from a unique feature of IHP’s family housing: students and their families live on campus year-round throughout their entire MRU experience, from the beginning of their program through to graduation.

“We wanted to remove the institutional look and feel because Mount Royal is home for these families. This is a family community,” Kootenay-Jobin explains.

“We had a vision that this space needs to be reflective of Indigenous cultures and spirituality so that we are fostering a community that works towards growth, knowledge, education and safety, while also staying grounded in identity.”

With support from TransAlta, that vision is becoming even more of a reality.

The new TransAlta Indigenous Family Tipi, located near the IHP residences on the east side of campus, now serves as a focal point for ceremonies, celebrations and informal gatherings while also helping to reinforce a sense of home for the students and families of the program.

“Each one of the poles inside of the tipi represent our family members, our grandparents, our community members. And it encompasses the vision and the concept that it really does take a village to raise a child,” Kootenay-Jobin says.

New furnishings for the family courtyard, including outdoor tables and seating, a barbecue, storage units, additional bike racks, a children’s playhouse and plans for future Indigenous artwork and murals, help further enhance the space.

The remainder of TransAlta’s donation will support IHP initiatives over the next few years, many of which will make use of the tipi and upgraded space. There will be children’s programming, elder engagement and opportunities for cultural and spiritual expression.

“TransAlta is a long-standing supporter of Mount Royal University and we are proud to provide funding for the Indigenous Family Housing Program at MRU. Through this donation we want to show our commitment to supporting the traditions of Indigenous students who are attending and living on campus at MRU,” says Kerry O’Reilly Wilks, executive vice president, Legal, Commercial and External Affairs at TransAlta.

“TransAlta hopes that the Tipi and associated programming will promote cultural and spiritual expression while helping to foster a sense of community and providing a gathering space for Indigenous families living on campus.”

This gift is the latest in a long list of support MRU has received from TransAlta, bringing their total contributions throughout the years to over $1.5 million. Past donations include $1 million to the Taylor Centre for the Performing Arts, resulting in the naming of the TransAlta Pavilion, and several thousand to the Harry G. Schaefer Mentorship Program. Mount Royal Chancellor Dawn Farrell, previously the president and CEO of TransAlta, was at the helm when these earlier donations were made.

As IHP continues to grow, in part thanks to contributions like this latest support from TransAlta, Kootenay-Jobin is optimistic of the impact the program can have on a larger scale.

“We hope it is noticed across the country, so that other post-secondary institutions can begin replicating and offering programs like this. Programs such as the IHP are pivotal to students’ success.”

Learn more about indigenization at MRU.

Oct. 4, 2021 — Rachel von Hahn

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