Friday, April 8, 2011

Douglas College Aboriginal Gathering Place set to open this month

By Leah Poulton, Marketing and Communications Office

Nearly a year after the first hammer was swung, construction on Douglas College’s Aboriginal Gathering Place is complete and the space is set to open next week.

Located at the New Westminster Campus beside Student Services on the 4th floor south, the Gathering Place will function as a multi-purpose facility. The larger main room will be used as a classroom, study space, student lounge and venue for traditional ceremonies. An adjoining smaller room will be used for meetings, potlucks and as a staging area for dancers.

The Aboriginal Gathering Place from outside on the 4th floor

The Gathering Place will be officially open for use after a private smudging ceremony on April 14. Smudging, a traditional cleansing and healing ceremony that involves the burning of herbs, will be used to bless the space before it’s used. The main room has been outfitted with special ventilation to allow for this type of ceremony.

Although the walls are currently bare, Aboriginal Student Services Coordinator Dave Seaweed says he and the rest of the planning committee have selected some significant, diverse pieces of art for the space.

“We wanted to make sure we represented the northwest coast First Nations people, but also the Inuit and the Metis,” says Seaweed.

The artwork includes a traditional Coast Salish welcoming pole, which will face away from the room and towards the Fraser River, welcoming everyone from the river. The welcoming pole will measure twelve feet tall, and so should be visible all the way from the riverfront. It’s being designed by well-known Aboriginal artist Susan Point.

Smaller poles, designed by George Hemeon, will sit in each corner of the room, representing the four directions and the four phases of the moon. These symbols are important in Aboriginal medicine and healing, says Seaweed.

The back wall of the room will be covered in a three-part mural, as well as several smaller pieces. Visitors will also pass a storytelling wall as they enter and exit the space.

Seaweed says the art will be an important factor in creating a welcoming environment in the Gathering Place.

Dave Seaweed inside the new Aboriginal Gathering Place

“We want to have enough art and diversity of art that it draws people in. We’re trying to create a sense of culture on campus, but also create a way to attract people to come in. It’s a gathering place, but we also want to teach about the culture.”

Seaweed says although the space is especially designed for students, as a place to meditate, hang out or study, it will also be host to some classes. The space may also be available for community groups in the future.

The majority of funding for the project came from the Aboriginal Special Project Funding initiative of the provincial government, with the remainder supplied by the College.

Grand opening ceremonies will take place in September.

For more information on the Aboriginal Gathering Space, contact Dave Seaweed, Aboriginal Student Services Coordinator.