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New gathering place to support Indigenous culture at North Island College

The building is called q̓əpixidaʔas, which means “gathering place”

Indigenous students, faculty and staff of North Island College can now access a new culturally-relevant gathering place at the Campbell River campus.

The building is called q̓əpixidaʔas, which means “gathering place” in the Liǧʷiłdax̌ʷ language. It will be a place for NIC’s Elders in Residence program, student support services, and will act as a community room for cultural celebrations, events and art displaces.

On April 22, the building was officially opened. The event began with North Island College Elder in Residence and Wei Wai Kai First Nation member Úmagalis (June Johnson) welcoming those who attended to the space. Speakers included We Wai Kum Chief Chris Roberts, provincial Minister of Advanced Education and Skills Training Anne Kang, North Island MLA Michele Babchuk, Liǧʷiłdax̌ʷ language program student Kirsten Dobler, and NIC president Lisa Domae.

“The Gathering Place will serve as a safe and welcoming place for our Indigenous students,” said Úmagalis. “It will be used as a dedicated space for cultural, language, social and academic teachings. I’m looking forward to being in this beautiful and spiritual space with students.”

By the beginning of the school year in the fall, the building will house art pieces, and will include a sheltered carving studio for year-round use. Indigenous students make up roughly 20 per cent of North Island College’s student body, and the Liǧʷiłdax̌ʷ language program has students living as far away as Europe who have family ties to the Campbell River area.

NIC executive director of Indigenous Education Kelly Shopland said, “We definitely have increasing numbers. Right now I think 21 per cent of our credit students are self-identifying as Indigenous, which makes it about 18 per cent of our full-time enrolment. It’s been a bit challenging with the digital delivery to know exactly where all of our students are joining from, but there are definitely increases, especially in our Indigenous language program.

“A silver lining of COVID and the transition to digital learning is that a lot of students are members that are maybe from this region, but don’t live in this region and have been able to participate,” she said. “We’ve had some students from as far away as Sweden joining in who have family ties to the area.”

Dobler said that to her, the building represents the college’s commitment to reconciliation.

”To me it’s a commitment that North Island College is making to the Liǧʷiłdax̌ʷ people and to the other Indigenous populations,” Dobler said. “It’s going to be really beautiful. I’m really grateful, there were so many kind and generous words today. I’m grateful for that, and to have this little bit of hope is pretty cool,” she said. “It’s about the commitment that the college is making, and it is really going to fall on the people who are in here day to day, how they act and how they behave in their own learning journeys.”

The college consulted with the We Wai Kai and We Wai Kum Nations on the design, as well as to honour the traditional territories of the Liǧʷiłdax̌ʷ people. The funding for the $2.5 million building came from the Advanced Education Ministry as part of its commitment to reconciliation, especially through Indigenizing education.

”We talk about Indigenization of colleges. This is a prime example of how we can tell Indigenous stories and cultures and allow the local community be part of that,” Kang said. “We look forward to this being one of our story telling centres where we can bring in the community. This gathering place is a true gathering place for everyone.

Part of the government’s focus is to ensure that B.C.’s trade needs are filled. Kang said that there has been a lot of interest from Indigenous students in the trades, and that facilities like this will help that expand into the future.

“There is an increase in enrolment in trades,” she said. “That’s one thing we’re focused on, skills training. We know that to build B.C. back from the pandemic and for us to expand economically we want people in the trades, and Indigenous students have demonstrated a lot of interest in the trades.”

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North Island College Student Kirsten Dobler speaks about how the new facility will benefit Indigenous students. Photo by Marc Kitteringham/Campbell River Mirror