Vancouver Island University expands Indigenous gathering space

Nanaimo, BC

The provincial government announced it will provide $3.3 million to support Vancouver Island University’s expansion of Shq’apthut, it’s gathering space for Indigenous learners.

The building, located on the Nanaimo campus of VIU, is a home away from home for Indigenous students where cultural, academic, recreational and social activities are promoted and celebrated.

“Providing cultural spaces on campus is important to Indigenous students and has value to the entire university community. VIU is seeing an increase in Indigenous student enrolment, and we are excited to invest in the facilities that will help support their educational experience,” said Anne Kang, minister of Advanced Education and Skills Training. “By expanding Shq'apthut, we can help encourage and welcome Indigenous students to pursue post-secondary education.”

Many Nuu-chah-nulth people have successfully completed post-secondary programs at VIU but there’s been a remarkable change in the past two years. Ian Caplette, the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council’s director of Education, Training and Social Development, noted that there has been a dramatic downturn in Nuu-chah-nulth enrollment in the current year with 25 students enrolled.

Caplette told Ha-Shilth-Sa there were about 110 Nuu-chah-nulth student applications in the 2019/2020 year for VIU programs. That was just before the COVID-19 pandemic began.

“Ultimately, I think the pandemic has had an effect on enrolment but there have also been patterns,” said Caplette.

Among other factors are student willingness to leave home to attend university.

The Shq’apthut building is the university’s way to address the latter issue. It is there to provide a comfortable and familiar space for all Indigenous students, but especially for those leaving their home communities for the first time.

According to a VIU news release, the expanded Shq'apthut building will add more ceremonial space, elder-in-residence offices and additional washroom facilities, all within a fully accessible building.

“VIU is proud of its long-standing commitment to reconciliation and our collaborations with the nations,” said Dr. Deborah Saucier, VIU’s president and vice-chancellor, in a statement. “The expansion of Shq’apthut is a tangible demonstration of our strategic commitment to build stronger partnerships with Indigenous communities in the regions we serve.”

“The new space will be heated and cooled by VIU’s District Geo-Exchange Energy System, which harnesses the geoenergy stored in sunken mine shafts under the campus. The surrounding site will undergo extensive landscaping that will exemplify and celebrate Indigenous culture,” the university added. “Working with the provincial government on this project will enhance the on-campus learning experience for Indigenous and non-Indigenous students at VIU and allow the elders the space they need to do their work.”

And the elders could have the space they need to welcome a potentially large influx of Indigenous students coming in for the 2022/23 academic year, now that pandemic restrictions are being lifted.

Caplette said the NTC’s education department has seen 143 Nuu-chah-nulth VIU application for the 2022/2023 year.

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