Family and friends of the late Marion Wright join hands after planting a cedar tree in her memory during the opening and blessing of The Gathering Place at the North Island College campus Monday.

The tree of life and Marion’s spirit help create The Gathering Place

A symbol that welcomes First Nations students to North Island College

The spirit of Marion Wright and her mission to improve advanced education opportunities for First Nation students is alive and well in Campbell River.

Wright, a former North Island College educator and political candidate who died this winter, was remembered fondly Monday during the official opening and blessing of The Gathering Place at the city’s college campus.

“Children were her passion,” said George Hunt Jr. “She always believed in bringing wisdom to the table.”

The Gathering Place, situated in front of the college entrance, is an open-air, post-and-beam structure built in the style of a traditional West Coast long house.

“A goal of North Island College is to improve First Nations students’ success,” said college president Jan Lindsay. “(The Gathering Place) is a symbol to welcome First Nations students.”

It’s also more than that. It’s a place all students can gather for school celebrations, to relax in the shade or just to marvel at the massive old growth red cedar post and beams, which were expertly hand-peeled and adzed by First Nations master carver Bill Henderson and his nephew Junior Henderson of the Campbell River Indian Band.

“You got to give them some character,” Bill Henderson said of the adz design on the wood. “And I thought it was fitting for it to be red cedar, it’s our tree of life.”

Lindsay was also impressed by the simple elegance of the structure.

“The building is spectacular,” she said, as she ran a hand over the rippled surface of the adz work. “It’s amazing the texture it brings.”

In her speech, Lindsay pointed out that 36 First Nations bands are encompassed in the region served by the college and it’s important for them to know they are welcomed and appreciated. It’s a message that wasn’t lost on Chief Ralph Dick of the Cape Mudge Indian Band.

“Education and culture are very important to our young people…(The Gathering Place) makes you feel good inside because you know the community is behind you,” he said.

Education and culture were also cornerstones of Wright’s own beliefs. She was recognized as a co-creator for the vision of aboriginal education at North Island College, and a person who wanted to make life better for others.

After The Gathering Place received a traditional First Nations blessing, everyone gathered out front, joined hands in a circle around a cedar tree which was planted in Wright’s memory. The blessing was also marked by traditional aboriginal drumming, singing, dancing, and a salmon barbecue.

“Things like this make my heart flutter,” said Barb Mitchell of the K’omoks Indian Band.