A first-of-its-kind ceremony was held Thursday at the University of Waterloo as members of the local Indigenous community invited the school to make a full commitment to reconciliation, indigenization and decolonization.

The day started at 7 a.m. with a sunrise ceremony at the Ceremonial Fire Grounds at United College, followed by a cedar circle where elders asked the university to mark the agreement between UW and the Indigenous community.

“We had so many people here witness the commitment of the university, and Indigenous people to decolonize and indigenize the University of Waterloo,” Indigenous knowledge keeper Myeengun Henry told CTV News.

Henry added that this kind of commitment is unique for a university.

“It’s the first time we’ve ever had a commitment at this level,” Henry said. “To do it in a sacred circle and to do it with a pipe ceremony is probably the first time in Canada that a university has done that.”

The ceremony was very special for UW student Braedon Lehman, who’s one quarter First Nations. He served as a flag bearer during the ceremony, holding the Haudenosaunee flag.

“For decades now, we’ve had bad relations with a Canadian government and institutions like universities. I feel like there is the push now to integrate and walk the path together.”

University of Waterloo president and vice-chancellor Vivek Goel said the commitment can lead to better relationships with the Indigenous community.

“We can’t change what has happened, but he have to learn about it, we have to understand it, and as look forward we have to walk a path together with our Indigenous community members who are here with us,” Goel said. “And shape our programs, our offerings, the way in which we do our teaching.”

Members of the Indigenous community told CTV News they believe the agreement is a step in the right direction.

“What today really symbolized is the action the university is taking,” said Jean Becker, the school’s associate vice president of Indigenous relations. “As Indigenous people, we’ve heard a lot of promises over the years, we’ve heard a lot of beautiful speeches, [but] we haven’t seen so much action.”