$15-million ‘gathering house’ approved for SFU’s Burnaby campus

A First Peoples' Gathering House has been approved for Simon Fraser University's Burnaby campus.

Set to be built by 2023, the project is funded jointly by the provincial government ($6.4 million) and SFU ($8.6 million) for a total projected cost of $15 million.

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In the 2019-20 fiscal year, there were 781 Indigenous students (559 undergraduate and 222 graduate) at SFU.

"Providing this kind of beautiful, culturally relevant space for Indigenous learners to come together, to celebrate, to practise cultural traditions, to learn and to make lasting friendships and connections is something I could have only dreamed of when I attended SFU," said Melanie Mark, minister of Advanced Education, Skills and Training, in a statement.

"This is what reconciliation is all about. We are responding to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's Calls to Action by building safe spaces so that Indigenous students, faculty and staff know that they can achieve their goals and aspirations at SFU and in every public post-secondary institution across B.C."

When completed, the project will be a 1,346 square-metre (14,485 square-foot) gathering house with a large ceremonial hall for hosting special events of up to 300 attendees. Other features of the new space will include a dressing room, an elders' room, a classroom, a wellness room and a multi-generational Indigenous peoples' lounge, as well as a food service kitchen.

"The First Peoples' Gathering House will provide a culturally appropriate space for Indigenous gatherings and for enabling the university community to gain a deeper appreciation of Indigenous knowledge and culture," said Andrew Petter, president, SFU. "We are very thankful for the provincial government's support of this important facility, which will assist the university to advance the process of reconciliation through education and engagement."

With the ceremonial hall as its focal point, the new gathering house will expand SFU's capacity to support Indigenous students in a culturally relevant space designed in the Coast Salish traditions and iconic typologies. SFU's Burnaby campus is on the traditional territories of the xʷmәθkʷәy̓әm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Úxwumixw (Squamish), sәl̓ilw̓әtaʔɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) and kʷikʷәƛ̓әm (Kwikwetlem).

"Building a First Peoples' Gathering Place was a discussion that began in the 1990s," said Eldon Yellowhorn, SFU's first Indigenous faculty member and a member of SFU's Aboriginal Reconciliation Council, who helped champion this project. "Realizing it is like getting the wish that was always close yet just out of reach. Now that we have grasped hold of it we can pay attention to those other wishes that also seemed unreachable."

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