The Aboriginal gathering space is located on the north side of the campus’ main building, next to the cafeteria. Its walls are lined with Aboriginal art and culturally-significant items such as a mask and a dream catcher.
“This space was created to provide a welcoming atmosphere for Aboriginal learners, and to provide an appropriate space for ceremonies and celebrations of the Aboriginal community,” said Laurie Rancourt, president of Northern Lights College. “It was also created to provide a venue for the sharing of stories, ideas and experiences. In short, it’s a space for the sharing of culture.”
That sentiment was echoed by Edith Leer, chair of the board of governors of the college.
“As a board, we recognize the regional and cultural diversity of the Northern Lights College area,” said Lear. “It is our sincere hope that this gathering space will provide a welcoming atmosphere for, and encourage, local Aboriginal students to take advantage of the learning opportunities here at Northern Lights College in Dawson Creek.”
Theresa Gladue, Aboriginal coordinator for the Dawson Creek campus, said the space is already hosting a few regular events, as well as becoming a space for students to study and socialize.
“They were talking about having a place for Aboriginal students to gather here, and it is starting to become a community – the students are coming in here, they are doing their homework and hanging out.”
She said there is a soup and bannock lunch offered to students on Fridays, and the Northern Lights Drum Group, of which she is a member, hosts a drop-in drum group every Wednesday from 6:30 to 8 p.m.
“Anybody that is interested in learning how to drum can drop in. If you don’t have a drum, we have some you could use – for a fee!” she joked.
Gladue added that starting next year the college will look to offer Cree language lessons twice a week in the new space.
Adeline Charlie, who is enrolled in the health care assistant program at the campus, said she definitely appreciates the new space being so far from her home in Old Crow, Yukon.
“It’s helped me a lot because I was a bit homesick for awhile and I didn’t know anybody, but when we all gathered there for soup and bannock I felt at home,” said Charlie.
She said she had worked in the hospital in Whitehorse as a First Nations liaison for several years, which stoked her interest in pursuing a nursing career, and when her children had grown up and left home, she decided to go back to school. She said she will continue to use the gathering space, whether to study, or just to relax and catch up with friends.
The Aboriginal gathering space in Dawson Creek is one of four at Northern Lights College campuses in the Northeast – with the other three located in Fort Nelson, Chetwynd and Fort St. John – created through a grant of over $600,000 from the provincial government. The Province is investing $13.6 million to create 27 Aboriginal gathering spaces in public post-secondary institutions across British Columbia.
The college received the praise on behalf of the City of Dawson Creek from councillor Sue Kenny, who noted how remarkable it is to have four such gathering spaces across the region. Naomi Yamamoto, provincial Minister of Advanced Education, and Regional Chief Jody Wilson-Raybould with the BC Assembly of First Nations, could not make the opening ceremony, but passed on congratulations on behalf of their respective organizations to the college in written statements.