Doreen Provencher

Doreen Provencher

Aboriginal gathering space promotes unity at Camosun

It’s almost impossible to miss “the giant cedar hat” when you’re in the vicinity of Camosun College.

The new structure, adjacent to Lansdowne Road, is an aboriginal gathering place.

“We felt it was important for these to be a visible space on campus that could draw people together,” said Corrine Michel, indiginization co-ordinator with the school’s Aboriginal Education and Community Connection department. “It provides a unique space, an outdoor space, for people to come in and sit together and do things together in special and new ways.”

The building and the land it sits on are already rooted in Aboriginal culture. They’ve been blessed at separate ceremonies by local elders.

It’s name – Na’tsa’maht – means unity. And Camosun hopes to epitomize that definition through the use of the space.

“You walk in there and can’t help but feel in awe and full of respect. I think that being in a building like that is going to create harmony,” Michel said. “Everybody wants to be in it. It’s already pulling people together. Already it’s a force that is focal point on campus that’s drawing people in.”

Na’tsa’maht was designed by Songhees artist Butch Dick. Though it looks like a traditional cedar hat, the building itself draws its character from different aboriginal shelters – from the Interior Salish arbour to the Coast Salish long houses.

“There’s already lots of community connections,” Michel said.

“When aboriginal students come to Camosun, their community comes with them,” Camosun spokesperson Val Mieras said. “There’s been some bad history with education for aboriginal people – a lot of fear and a lot of distrust. This shows there’s a new beginning, and students are acknowledging that.”

She estimates the school has around 900 aboriginal students, and that number is growing.

The importance, she stresses, is the sense of community, which will continue to grow with the opening of the gathering place.

“It’s important that we show Camosun is a place for aboriginal students because their community college is in their community,” Mieras said.

The $600,000 project was funded by the provincial Ministry of Advanced Education.