Expanded Indigenous gathering place honors tradition and improves student services

Indigenous students at Vancouver Island University (VIU) will soon have access to more space as Shq’apthut (A Gathering Place) is expanded on the Nanaimo campus.

The building is a home for Indigenous students where cultural, academic, recreational and social activities are promoted and celebrated.

“Providing cultural spaces on campus is important for Indigenous students and has value for the entire university community. VIU is seeing an increase in Indigenous student enrollment and we are excited to invest in facilities that will help support their educational experience,” said Anne Kang, Minister of Higher Education and Skills Training. “By expanding Shq’apthut, we can help encourage and welcome Indigenous students to pursue post-secondary education.

The expanded Shq’apthut building will add more ceremonial space, offices for seniors in residence, and additional washroom facilities, all in a fully accessible building. The new space will be heated and cooled by VIU’s District Geothermal Energy System, which harnesses geoenergy stored in mine shafts dug beneath the campus. The surrounding site will be extensively landscaped to illustrate and celebrate Aboriginal culture.

“VIU is proud of its longstanding commitment to reconciliation and our collaborations with the Nations. The expansion of Shq’apthut is a tangible demonstration of our strategic commitment to building stronger partnerships with Indigenous communities in the areas we serve,” said Deborah Saucier, President, VIU. “Working with the provincial government on this project will improve the on-campus learning experience for Indigenous and non-Indigenous students at VIU and give Elders the space they need to do their jobs.

With new funding of $3.7 million between VIU and the province to expand Shq’apthut, construction is expected to begin in spring 2023 and be completed in spring 2024.

“The expansion of Shq’apthut will allow us to host more cultural events due to increased capacity, and it will include dedicated office space for our seniors in residence to engage one-on-one with students in a Culturally Appropriate Environment,” Sylvia Scow, Acting Director, Office of Indigenous Education and Engagement, VIU. “Having this space to build relationships and share traditional knowledge is critical in our work to implement the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Quotation:

James Beardy, Bachelor of Natural Resource Management student, VIU-

“For me, Shq’apthut has been a place where I feel like I belong, a place with familiar faces. It’s been key to my success in school because I can’t reach my full potential unless I’m comfortable where I am, and this space has helped me feel comfortable. Attending events in Shq’apthut has helped me learn more about Coast Salish culture and protocols here, which are very different from where I come from – Fox Lake Cree Nation in northern Manitoba.

Murray Rankin, Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation –

“Starting post-secondary education is such an important step in a person’s life. This represents a moment of change and it requires supports. Shq’apthut is an important place on campus, and this additional investment to ensure it meets the needs of Indigenous students now and in the future is an important step towards reconciliation.

Sheila Malcolmson, MLA for Nanaimo –

“We all benefit from the leadership of Vancouver Island University, learning about each other’s cultures and traditions. The second phase of Shq’apthut honors local First Nations, supports students on campus, and celebrates culture in a space designed to inspire.

Fast facts:

  • The province provided $3.3 million for the $3.7 million project. VIU provided $417,300.
  • VIU’s Nanaimo campus is located on Snuneymuxw First Nation territory.
  • The number of Indigenous students on the Nanaimo campus increased by 11% between 2018-19 and 2020-21, reaching a total of 1,384 students.
  • Aboriginal students represent 12% of the total student population of 11,963.
  • Over 24,580 students at public post-secondary institutions identified as Indigenous in 2019-20.

Learn more:

Learn more about Vancouver Island University: https://www.viu.ca/