Thomas R. Louttit, a Cree Elder, was presented with a Doctor of Laws, honoris causa, on Saturday, November 12, 2016. The honorary degree recognizes his wise leadership and gracious service to the community as an Elder.
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Thomas was honoured and gifted with a Star Blanket from two Carleton Indigenous students; on the left, Amber Asp-Chief, and on the right, Shane Polson. Following the Star Blanket ceremony, Carleton Indigenous student, Laura Gagnon, sang an Honour Song for Thomas.
Sandra Dyck, Director of Carleton University Art Gallery, shared these opening remarks about Thomas:
“I am deeply humbled and honoured to introduce Thomas R. Louttit. Thomas is a member of the Moose Cree First Nation, whose traditional territory is located on the southwest side of James Bay, in northern Ontario. Thomas lives his life in service to others. He is an Elder, firekeeper, teacher, pipe-carrier, role model, lodge keeper, volunteer, and mentor. He demonstrates exemplary integrity, wisdom, humility, and leadership. Thomas, with his characteristic modesty, describes himself simply as “a helper to the people.”
I met Thomas last year, when Walking With Our Sisters, a commemorative art installation honouring Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls, and Two-Spirit People, was presented on campus. Inside Carleton University’s tipi, Thomas established a ceremonial space, where he cared for the sacred fire, led pipe ceremonies, and greeted, smudged, and talked to thousands of visitors, from the campus and beyond.
Thomas is a survivor of Canada’s residential and foster care systems. He spent ten years, from the age of five, at residential school in Fort Albany, Ontario, and Fort George, Quebec, and then, three years in foster homes throughout Ontario.
Inside the tipi at Carleton, Thomas shared his traumatic childhood experiences at residential school. As he has done on so many occasions, over decades, and with profound courage and sensitivity, Thomas speaks the truth of his past. In so doing, he speaks the truth of Canada’s history. But he does not dwell there. He has dedicated himself to building and sharing the language, culture, and traditional practices that the residential school system was designed to extinguish in him. He is deeply committed to supporting, teaching and encouraging others on their own journeys.
Thomas is a graduate of the Ontario Native Education Counselling Association’s counsellor training program, and provides invaluable support and guidance to universities and colleges, and to such organizations as the Wabano Centre for Indigenous Health, the Assembly of First Nations, and the Native Women’s Association of Canada. As Thomas said to me recently, he loves life, he loves his work, and he takes great joy in giving back to people what he has learned.
Mr. Chancellor, in recognition of his wise leadership and gracious service to the community as an Elder, and the inspiration he offers those he mentors and those privileged to witness his actions, which constitute an honourable model of personal reconciliation and education, I request that you confer the degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa, upon Thomas R. Louttit.”