Songhees Nation councillor Gary Sam joins Minister of Advanced Education, Skills and Training, Melanie Mark, to sign an agreement securing $655,000 in funding to launch a culinary, hospitality and tourism program on Songhees Nation, in partnership with Camosun College. Kristyn Anthony/VICTORIA NEWS

Province to kickstart Songhees culinary program

In partnership with Camosun College, two-year plan provides $655,000 for education, reconciliation

The provincial government announced today its commitment to education for Indigenous learners, pledging $655,000 for the launch of a new culinary arts, hospitality and tourism management program on Songhees Nation.

Minister of Advanced Education, Skills and Training Melanie Mark – the first Indigenous woman elected to the legislature and to serve as a cabinet minister – delivered the news at the Songhees Wellness Centre, calling it an investment in both education and reconciliation.

“As an Indigenous minister whose grandparents went to residential school, as the first person who ever graduated from high school in my family and went to college and university, I know the power of education,” Mark said. “I know how transformative it is and how impactful it can be on our communities.”

The program will be delivered in the community by Camosun College, so students can stay and learn close to home where their families and supports are, she added.

Today’s announcement is part of a larger action taken by the province to provide $21.1 million through the Aboriginal Community-Based Training Partnerships Program.

With an estimated 6,210 job openings in the local food-service industry over the the next decade, the program is expected to contribute revenues in excess of $7 million.

Students will receive Professional Cook level 1 certification, two applied tourism and hospitality courses and certificates to boost work placement upon completion. Currently, two members of Songhees Nation are Red Seal apprentices in Camosun’s Hospitality Program.

Executive Chef David Roger with Songhees Seafood and Steam said it was an emotional day.

“This was my goal from the start,” he said, of growing the current operation that includes banquet and catering facilities, a food truck and now an educational element.

“The program we’re developing is for someone to find what they’re most passionate about,” he said. “We’re here as coaches to help them reach their goals.”

The plan is to get back to the basics with a focus on traditional methods like pot cooking, and traditional foods like smoked salmon, fry bread and bannock.

Pastry chef Rachel Robinson already sees the interest growing within the community. “It’s always inspiring to look into Indigenous future,” she said.

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