Anne Kang, B.C. Minister of Advanced Education and Skills Training, unveils plans for a $3.7-million expansion project at the Shq’apthut Indigenous gathering place at Vancouver Island University on April 8. (Karl Yu/News Bulletin)

Anne Kang, B.C. Minister of Advanced Education and Skills Training, unveils plans for a $3.7-million expansion project at the Shq’apthut Indigenous gathering place at Vancouver Island University on April 8. (Karl Yu/News Bulletin)

Province investing $3.3 million into VIU Indigenous gathering place expansion

Offices, ceremonial space and more coming to Vancouver Island University Nanaimo campus

The provincial government will offer millions to expand the space and services at Vancouver Island University’s Indigenous gathering place.

B.C. Minister of Advanced Education Anne Kang was at VIU’s Nanaimo campus on Friday, April 8, to announce $3.3 million in provincial funding for the Shq’apthut gathering place.

The minister said the expansion will encourage and welcome Indigenous students to post-secondary education opportunities.

“Providing cultural spaces on campus is important to Indigenous students and has value to the entire university community,” Kang said in a release.

VIU will be contributing more than $400,000 to the project. The expansion will add more ceremonial space, offices for elders-in-residence and additional washroom facilities and “extensive landscaping that will exemplify and celebrate Indigenous culture” is also planned. The work is expected to begin next spring and estimated to be completed in one year.

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Gary Manson, a VIU elder, said sharing experiences with First Nation students is important, as is increased space at the gathering place.

“It’s going to be awesome, especially if it makes room for us, because sometimes we’re scattered all over the campus just because there’s not enough space for all of us here,” said Manson. “Right here is the hub for the students and if we’re not here, then they miss out on that … I’m very grateful for the gift that we were given today and how that’s going to help us grow and how we’re going to clear a path for students who want to come to this place of higher learning.”

Deborah Saucier, VIU president, said the expansion of Shq’apthut is a “tangible demonstration” of the university’s commitment to strengthen partnerships with Indigenous communities in the region. The university is in the very early planning stages for work on the project, she said.

“We’ve contracted the original architect for this building so that we can figure out how to tie it in best with the existing facility, with the minimum amount of disruption,” said Saucier. “We can’t afford to live without this space, but we expect it’s probably going to be about two years before we have our grand opening … We’re hoping we can re-use much of this space. There’ll of course be some tear down because we have to tie the two features in, but this was always envisioned to be a larger space and so it was designed with that in mind.”

Sheila Malcolmson, Nanaimo MLA, said following recommendations of the United Nation’s Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is important for the government.

“We’re the first place anywhere to adopt the [declaration],” said Malcolmson. “Part of the promise was that is action, not just commitment. An announcement like today’s is part of it and it embeds everything we’re doing … last month we tabled the declaration action plan, a beautiful ceremony in the legislature [with] everybody together saying these are the commitments and now we implement them and that’s what reconciliation really is.”

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Post-secondary Education