First Nations wellness centre stirs emotions

Songhees carving out sustainable future with new $16-million centre



With each flick of his black marker on the face of the six-metre-long red cedar column before him, Songhees carver Clarence Dick brings the design of a traditional Coast Salish house post to life.

It is physical proof that his community’s plan to create a sustainable future is a step closer to realization.

The house post – a traditional art form embraced by the Coast Salish people, like those at Songhees Nation – is the first of five that will be erected at the entrance of the new Songhees Wellness Centre.

Construction on the $16-million health, administration, tourism and recreation facility will begin in August or September and continue for two years. The facility, which has been the community’s dream for the past 30 years, will open its doors in the summer of 2013.

“I’ll feel, I don’t know, like almost crying ‘cause you feel so happy,” says Dick, who is heading the team of Songhees carvers. “It’ll be happy tears.”

The 5,600-square-metre centre will be built at the corner of Admirals and Maplebank roads on a Songhees parcel of land, nestled between the Township of Esquimalt and Esquimalt First Nation.

It will feature three wings for administration, health and recreation services, much of which will be open to the general public – considered important to creating long-term employment, and to one day have the centre pay for itself. Unemployment in the Coast Salish community has been as high as 60 per cent.

“I hope it means change, to build a new foundation and approach to how we service our community,” says Clarence Dick’s father and Songhees elder, Butch Dick.

As the band’s education liaison worker, Butch says more youth would have incentive to stay in school if there is a permanent source of employment within the First Nation.

“We constantly talk about our people being in welfare roles,” Butch says, adding that on average 30 per cent of youth in aboriginal communities across Canada are on social assistance. “But we don’t empower them to want to be educated. We have to be able to change.”

“It shouldn’t be thought of as a solution to our issues,” says Butch, who serves as artistic director on the committee leading the project. “It’s going to give us stability.”

The centre will feature consolidated band administration services, such as treaty negotiation, property taxation, archaeology, public works, bylaw enforcement, lands management, finance and council chambers. There will be a youth drop-in centre, complete with a multimedia learning room, youth and adult classrooms and a computer lab.

The recreation wing will include a full-size basketball court, doubling as a conference centre, with retractable stage and industrial kitchen, all which can be rented.

The health wing will incorporate a work-out room, teaching kitchen and space for counselling, treatment, hydrotherapy, physiotherapy and massage. Elders will have a centre, and there will be a gift shop showcasing Coast Salish art.

The facility will also be a tourist destination, where visitors can take guided canoe trips, watch carvers, dancers and other artisans at work, and enjoy a Coast Salish meal.

However, project funding has been tough to come by.

The province has not contributed, and the federal contribution has been viewed as a disappointment by the Songhees Nation: Health Canada is providing $800,000, and Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada is contributing $200,000.

“We’d like help, but we’ll own it even more if we do it ourselves,” says Christina Clarke, project facilitator and band property taxation administrator.

Faced with raising the bulk of the funding alone, the committee asked band members in a referendum whether the project should continue. About 75 per cent voted to keep going, and the committee is now in the process of securing a financing partner.

“It’s a combination of putting up our own equity and financing, and continuing to work towards receiving grants,” Clarke says of the community’s answer to finance the project. “It’s tough times.”

Despite the positive feedback the Songhees Nation has received from politicians about the centre, it’s not translating into substantial funding, which has committee members scratching their heads.

“It lets you know there is something wrong with the system when there is plenty of money for welfare, there is plenty of money for social assistance, and very little money for economic development,” says Clarke.

“We want to break away from (relying fully on government funding), so we’re doing it ourselves.”

emccracken@vicnews.com

Just Posted

B.C. freestyle skier wins gold

Cassie Sharpe of Comox shines in the halfpipe

UPDATED: Emergency crews rescue pregnant woman from Mount Finlayson

Langford and Metchosin respond to roughly four-hour-long rescue

Victoria police pay special attention to domestic violence

Workshop for officers and others shows how domestic abuse trauma impacts for a long time

Panthers ready for the Storm in opening playoff series

Peninsula Junior B hockey club hands out its annual awards

Oak Bay skaters bound for BC Games in Kamloops

Saanich resident aims for second gold

Oak Bay skaters bound for BC Games in Kamloops

Saanich resident aims for second gold

Virtue and Moir end ice dance careers with Olympic gold

Virtue and Moir’s gold medal win at the Olympics makes them the world’s most decorated figure skaters

Victoria City rower medals at indoor world championships

Carl Schoch takes 2,000-metre sprint bronze in veteran category

Canadians find living in small spaces teaches creativity

Canadian families choosing to live in small spaces to bring closeness to children

Saanich Braves earn top awards heading into playoffs

MVP, Coach of Year lead Braves against Kerry Park Islanders starting Tuesday

SAR suspends search for missing man at Sun Peaks

RCMP will continue to search for a missing man near Kamloops but SAR has suspended their role

Lottery will help save children’s lives

Each ticket gets you a chance to win a lot of money, while helping a lot of kids

B.C. RCMP officer officially cleared in car wash shooting incident

A report found the Salmon Arm officer fired 14 bullets at the man’s truck

Wounded Warrior Run stops in Port McNeill

For Jacqueline Zweng, the Wounded Warrior Run is a personal matter.

Most Read