Entry view from northeast approach on ceremonial walk

First Peoples’ Gathering House to open in 2023

December 22, 2021

A ceremonial space where the SFU community can celebrate Indigenous knowledge and culture will open on the Burnaby campus in 2023.

“I’m very excited this project is moving forward; the First People’s Gathering House will be ‘our home away from home’ and the heart and soul of Indigeneity at SFU,” says Ron Johnston, director of the Office for Aboriginal Peoples. Johnston is an SFU alumnus, and a member of the former SFU Aboriginal Reconciliation Council (SFU-ARC) which was dissolved in 2017, once the ARC Report was handed off to former SFU President Andrew Petter, in Coast Salish protocol and ceremony.

“Longhouses are important gathering places in our communities where teaching, learning, ceremony and protocols are upheld and practiced and are at the centre of our Indigenous cultures,” he says. “Now we will have such a place at SFU.”

SFU’s 2017 Walk this Path With Us report outlines 34 calls to action to create and support an improved environment for Indigenous community members. The longhouse represents both a step toward lasting reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples, and SFU’s continued reconciliation efforts.

During Orange Shirt Day on Sept. 30, 2020, the Office for Aboriginal Peoples and others held a special ground-awakening ceremony in front of the Strand Hall Annex at the eastern end of the Burnaby campus. The longhouse, which will replace the aging annex, is funded jointly by the provincial government and SFU at a projected cost of $15 million. Construction will begin in 2022.

Eldon Yellowhorn, associate professor, Indigenous studies and member of the former SFU-ARC, has helped to champion the project and believes the First Peoples’ Gathering House “will exceed our dreams, and be a very special place for all of us.”

Gabriel George, from Tsleil-Waututh Nation, and Indigenous studies professor Rudy Reimer (Yumks) conducted the Kwis Ns7eyx̱ (Witness) ceremony in accordance with age-old Coast Salish protocol and practice. The Kwis Ns7eyx̱ ceremony is at the heart of Coast Salish culture and protocol and has been practiced since time immemorial. It’s the way in which Coast Salish People document and record their oral histories of important events and activities that take place on their lands.

Witnesses included Coast Salish artist Angela George, who is a graduate of SFU’s Executive MBA in Indigenous Business Leadership; Deanna Reder, associate professor and chair of the Department of Indigenous studies; Marie Brunelle, human rights’ office director; and Sobhana Jaya-Madhavan, associate vicepresident, external relations. The project’s three lead architects, Ouri Scott, Shelley Craig and Jake Chakasim from Urban Arts Architecture Inc., were blanketed to honour and inspire them and their work.

The First Peoples’ Gathering House will include a large ceremonial hall for hosting special events of up to 300 attendees. It will include a dressing room, an Elders’ room, a classroom, a wellness room, and a multi-generational Indigenous Peoples’ lounge, as well as a food-service kitchen.

View from northwest of great hall, outdoor ceremony and maker space
View from south west of multi-generational lounge and outdoor gathering (great hall beyond)
A ground-awakening ceremony for the First Peoples' Gathering House during Orange Shirt Day in September 2020.