The Shaping & Structuring of Space: The Hoop Dance Gathering Place

Credit: BrookMcIlroy, “Hoop Dance Indigenous Gathering Place at Mohawk College”

In the 2010s, Brook McIlroy, Indigenous students of Mohawk College, and the Six Nations First Nation and the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation Elders and members collaborated in the creation of the Hoop Dance Gathering Place (or the Indigenous Gathering Place) at Mohawk College in Hamilton, Ontario.[1] Completed in 2016, located on the traditional territory of the Haudenosaunee and Anishnaabeg Nations, and protected by the Dish with One Spoon wampum agreement, the Hoop Dance Gathering Place represents the importance of collaboration between colleges/universities and Indigenous peoples. The Hoop Dance Gathering Place is the beginning of a process towards decolonizing college and university spaces, which currently prioritize non-Indigenous students, non-Indigenous knowledge, and non-Indigenous history despite residing on Indigenous territory.

Located in the main courtyard of Mohawk College. Credit: Mohawk College, Fennel Campus Virtual Map.

The Hoop Dance Gathering Place is a circular open-air pavilion featuring a seating area, non-orthogonal wooden poles, a fire circle, and a Medicine Wheel covering. Because it was designed in collaboration with Indigenous peoples, it contains many Indigenous aspects, including reference to “the layered spatial organization of the Longhouse.”[2] The Longhouse was a type of house construction used predominantly by Indigenous Nations in what is now southern Ontario. Longhouses featured thick wooden posts driven into the ground and beams bent along the top to form roofs.[3] Today, as with the Hoop Dance Gathering Place, Longhouses represent places of gathering for ceremonies, meetings, and community space.

Notice the Medicine Wheel covering and five elements: open-air pavilion, fire circle, water garden, traditional garden and a Three Sisters gardenn. Credit: BrookMcIlroy, “Hoop Dance Indigenous Gathering Place at Mohawk College”

The Hoop Dance Gathering Place includes five elements:

  1. an “open-air pavilion;
  2. a fire circle;
  3. a water garden;
  4. a traditional garden; and a
  5. Three Sisters garden” (see images above). [4]

The Gathering Place’s openness allows individuals to enter from different directions rather than a conventional single point of entry. Its non-orthogonal and slanted shape as well as its “dynamic spatial character” suggest “a structure in motion—expressive of the Indigenous belief in the animate nature of things.” For example, while sitting inside, one can watch the change in shadows cast by the asymmetrical poles and upper circles as the sun crosses the sky.

Construction of the Hoop Dance Gathering Place. Credit: “HOOP Dance Gathering Place / Brook McIlroy,” ArchDaily.

The Hoop Dance Gathering Place’s location on the campus of Mohawk College encourages the space’s accessibility for both students and the public. It is open for individual use, ceremonies, and events. Mohawk College’s goal is that it “will serve as a venue for traditional ceremonies, a tool for teaching, a place to meditate or quietly study.”[6]

Hoop Dance Gathering Place. Credit: BrookMcIlroy, “Hoop Dance Indigenous Gathering Place at Mohawk College”

Although the Hoop Dance Gathering Place is one of few Indigenous monuments/spaces on Canadian campuses, its inclusion at Mohawk College will hopefully serve not only as a structure for future Indigenous spaces but also as a point of departure toward decolonizing academic spaces. The collaborative approach adopted for the creation of the Hoop Dance Gathering Place will hopefully lead to greater collaboration in the future, not only in the shaping of space but, more importantly, in the structuring of academia.

The Medicine Wheel covering from below. Credit: “Media Release: Indigenous Gathering Space Officially Opens For Mohawk College Students and Community Partners,” Mohawk News Desk, June 21, 2016.

-Catherine Ramey


[1] “Hoop Dance Indigenous Gathering Place at Mohawk College,” BrookMcIlroy, https://brookmcilroy.com/projects/hoop-dance-indigenous-gathering-place-at-mohawk-college-2/.

[2] Ibid.

[3]  For more on Longhouses, visit René R. Gadacz, “Longhouse,” The Canadian Encyclopedia, https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/longhouse.

[4] ” Hoop Dance Indigenous Gathering Place at Mohawk College,” BrookMcIlroy, https://brookmcilroy.com/projects/hoop-dance-indigenous-gathering-place-at-mohawk-college-2/.

[5] Ibid.

[6] “The Indigenous Gathering Place (IGP),” Mohawk College, https://www.mohawkcollege.ca/indigenous-students/our-spaces/indigenous-gathering-place-igp.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: