Case Study: University of the Fraser Valley
The Gathering Place at the University of the Fraser Valley (UFV) Canada Education Park (CEP) campus was an initiative of the Aboriginal Community Council and Aboriginal Resource Centre. UFV was planning to build a new campus in Chilliwack. Part of that planning was the idea of an “Aboriginal Centre” that would house the Resource Centre, Student Centre and a home for the Elders and other staff / faculty. It was serendipitous that the Ministry of Advanced Education, Skills and Training also put out a call for proposals to post-secondary institutions to build Aboriginal Gathering Places on their campuses. The ministerial decision was to allocate equal dollars to all post-secondary education institutions.
UFV and the local Aboriginal community hired a consultant to gather stories and insights into what the new longhouse might look like and contain, and to write the proposal. Stephanie Gould collected stories from a number of Elders about Q’qolaxel “watery eaves” the traditional longhouse located in the approximate location of the CEP campus. The university, and the architects hired to plan the new university buildings, had a number of meetings with local Stó:lō leaders, Aboriginal Advisors and Cultural Knowledge Keepers. Stephanie gathered the input from her personal communications and these community consultations and prepared a proposal for Q’qolaxel Watery Eaves.
Purpose & Goals
1. The desire for an indigenized space by the Aboriginal community that reflected and included Stó:lō ways of knowing and being.
This first goal is achieved in the utilization of the Gathering Space. One example is the use of the Gathering Space for the Stó:lō completion ceremony following a program delivered in the community (i.e. off-campus). Oftentimes, for off-campus delivery, the completion ceremonies are carried out in the community or at Stó:lō Nation. In this instance the Program Advisory Committee determined that the Gathering Space at UFV CEP was the best venue to host the ceremony.
2. The community and the university desired to share important Stó:lō cultural protocols, pedagogy and practices with all of the larger community (students, instructors, staff, administrators and governing bodies, as well as the public).
Sharing Stó:lō cultural protocols, pedagogy and practices with all of the larger community are evident in the on-going use of the Gathering Space. The replica longhouse is used for many university gatherings including the Indigenizing the Academy 2012 event that was hosted just weeks after opening. It was likewise used in September 2013 for the Indian Residential School Day of Learning opening ceremony. These two events have provided significant insights to Stó:lō cultural practices, protocols, worldviews, and pedagogies, and have placed Stó:lō Knowledge Keepers at the center of this learning at UFV.
Many classes and gatherings use the Gathering Place on an ongoing basis either for class presentations/final projects, opening classes, or to carry out their entire semester of classes in the Gathering Space. There has been a noticed growth in and an increased understanding among faculty members who use the space. For example, in the beginning, instructors/facilitators would come in to the space and, despite the design of the longhouse, would want to set up a stage or a “front of the classroom”.
The Stó:lō worldview provides teachings around how “the floor” is the ideal place to learn from due to its central positioning and because everyone can see each other. The cultural protocols that go along with this important teaching were shared each time classes and gatherings were welcomed to the space. Immediately instructors/facilitators changed their delivery method – and used the floor. This was further strengthened when dual projectors and dual screens replaced the single set-up that inadvertently encouraged students/audience to sit on only one of the four sides of the longhouse.
Challenges & Future Plans
One challenge has been the booking and use of the Gathering Place. Booking rooms and spaces at the university is generally centralized and done through “room bookings”, and this works well in most instances. However, the Gathering Place has some specific protocols which require additional process. For example, the Gathering Place provides priority for Aboriginal events, ceremonies, celebrations and learning opportunities. This has meant that a class booked for the whole semester (weekly) yields to these groups/events. This can mean that another classroom needs to be found for the regularly scheduled class – the process for this, in the beginning was a bit murky leaving a class without a meeting space – the logistics have long since been ironed out. Another example of a challenge associated with the booking process is requests for receptions or events where alcohol will be served. The broader community (Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal) has requested to use the Gathering Place for such events. They are then told it is not an appropriate use of the Gathering Place because it is a sacred space.
In the beginning, much of the “booking” went through the Aboriginal Department Assistant and there could be a lag or omission in the room booking schedule, leading to double bookings. Today room bookings are indigenized (knowing protocols, questions to ask and providing brief protocols for use), and there is a clear process for booking, which includes ongoing communication with the Aboriginal Student Centre about the schedule and the use of the Gathering Place.
We have also been challenged to create awareness for the cultural protocols (sacred significance) of the Gathering Place. Oftentimes, we found that people booking the Gathering Place thought of it as just another room in the university. They were surprised when they were welcomed and introduced to the space. Over time, almost everyone in the university has become acquainted with the Gathering Place and its cultural meanings and protocols. The pendulum has also swung the other way. For example, people were having everyone remove their shoes and not allowing food or drink into the area. This too became part of the educational process as we encouraged everyone to feel at home and be comfortable in the space, including eating, drinking, and wearing shoes while using the room.
Senior Advisor on Indigenous Affairs
Summary of Leading Practices for Culturally Welcoming Spaces and Gathering Places
In 2012 the Ministry of Advanced Education, Skills and Training (“the Ministry”) launched the Aboriginal Post-Secondary Education and Training Policy Framework and Action Plan, which commits to improving outcomes for Indigenous learners. A key objective of the Policy Framework is that public post-secondary institutions will implement policies, programs and services based on leading practices.
The Ministry has since developed materials on leading practices—including on advisory councils, gathering places, Indigenous student housing, partnerships, transitions, mentoring, Indigenous knowledge, and assessment and benchmarking--that have been reviewed by the B.C. Aboriginal Post-Secondary Coordinators, Indigenous Leadership Roundtable, Aboriginal Post-Secondary Education and Training Partners, First Nations Education Steering Committee and Indigenous Adult and Higher Learning Association.
The following summary is intended to assist faculty, administrators and staff at post-secondary institutions to implement leading practices with culturally welcoming spaces and gathering places– whether that be in making improvements to existing spaces or establishing new ones.
- Support knowledge keepers in teaching protocols and expectations for care and use of Culturally Welcoming Spaces and Gathering Places.
- Recognize traditional territory/ies through protocols, traditional names and symbols.
- Portray Indigenous diversity of the region and institution in respectful ways.
- Support inclusive, intercultural learning and exchange, while balancing Indigenous cultural safety considerations.
- Include indoor/outdoor reception space for cultural events and ceremonies (e.g., Smudge, traditional food preparation, etc.).
- Establish outdoor garden area with Indigenous plants, spaces for ceremonies, etc.
- Provide student supports and academic resources in the culturally welcoming spaces at all public post-secondary institution campuses (e.g., tutoring/study skills, childcare, kitchen, internet access and phone service, etc.). Or provide referrals if those resources are not available.