First Peoples' Gathering House

Background

Important Reconciliation work is being done at SFU by various individuals and departments as the university continues to implement the 34 Calls to Action outlined in the 2017 Walk This Path With Us Report. One Cluster of the Calls to Action is a commitment to fostering safe and welcoming Indigenous spaces on campus. Under this Cluster, Call to Action #3 aims to “reinvigorate long-delayed plans for creating a culturally appropriate ceremonial hall and space. The Aboriginal Reconciliation Council’s (ARC) recommendation has been that this ceremonial space should serve as a cultural hub for the use and education of all SFU community members and visitors.

Functions in a First Peoples' Gathering House

Longhouses are institutions in First Nation communities where oral histories, cultural practices, ceremony and events are held in accordance with age old Coast Salish traditions, protocol and the laws of the land. A First Peoples’ Gathering House at SFU would be central to Indigenous education at SFU and would serve multiple benefits, including:

  • A shared gathering/social space for Aboriginal students, staff and community
  • A space that provides greater understanding of Aboriginal peoples and culture
  • A place for Aboriginal and campus-wide cultural events, workshops and celebrations
  • Encourage more Aboriginal students to pursue post-secondary education
  • A welcome place for all visitors
  • A demonstration of SFU’s recognition and respect for Indigenous peoples’ contribution and culture

Proposed plan

For many years, SFU has had the construction of a gathering house as one of the top-ranked capital priorities. A capital budget of approximately
$15M has been estimated.

Based on previous feedback and consultations that were part of ARC open forums, a budget of $15 million envisions an approximate 12,000-sq. ft. facility.  A majority of the space will be allocated for a large ceremonial space accomodating 300 attendees for community events, graduations, and other special events and conferences. Participants are also interested in a classroom or meeting room as well as interactive elements to educate visitors and SFU community members.
Selecting a site with care and sensitivity is a priority as the ceremonial space will serve as a focal point for the community. It will be a gathering space for SFU students, staff and faculty to share and learn.

Three site options have been outlined for consideration by the Chief Facilities Officer including the various associated opportunities and considerations.

Proposed timelines

The SFU community consultation process will be from September to November, 2019.  With the time required for design and construction, the First Peoples’ Gathering House could open in Spring 2022.

Site option 1

East of Strand Hall

  • High visibility site; location would allow some degree of architectural autonomy without negatively impacting the existing character of adjacent buildings.
  • High site prominence—would become a key eastern facing identity building for the campus.
  • Minimal regrading needed—flat site.
  • Loading / servicing a challenge but workable.
  • Challenging to provide a drop off adjacent to the building, but cars could get close.
  • Requires loss of parking; timing may not align with plans for replacement parking.
  • Need to preserve north-south linkage between Applied Science and Blusson/ Saywell.

Site option 2

Strand Hall Annex replacement

  • High visibility site; location would allow
    some degree of architectural autonomy without negatively impacting the existing character of adjacent buildings.
  • Requires relocation of existing Strand Hall Annex uses and demolition.
  • West edge would need to be opaque to
    control light pollution for observatory.
  • Some site challenges with slope down
    to south.
  • Loading / servicing a challenge but workable.
  • Challenging to provide a drop off adjacent to the building, but cars could get close.
  • Site would not accommodate building expansion beyond 14,500 sq.ft. footprint
  • Requires careful consideration of potential relationship with as yet unidentified future building on the site to the east.
  • Need to preserve north-south linkage
    between Applied Science and Blusson/Saywell.

Site option 3

South of new Student Union Building

  • Upper part of building would have high
    visibility from main campus entry road—
    could be a significant marker on campus.
    Would require thoughtful integration with buildings to east and north—reducing the possibility of architectural autonomy.
  • Close to heart of campus.
  • Positive relationship with SUB uses adjacent.
  • Positive relationship to ‘Maggie Field’ with potential for related outdoor activities.
  • Need to preserve fire truck access to SUB
    and service road to south.
  • Some regrading needed.
  • Possible to provide a drop off adjacent
    to the building.

Conclusion

A First Peoples’ Gathering House at SFU is more than just a social gathering space for the SFU community—it is a pillar of advancing the university’s Calls to Action and executing the Aboriginal Strategic Plan. This project represents an important opportunity for all members of SFU community to create a preferred future that recognizes SFU as a safe, welcoming and supportive environment for Indigenous students, staff, faculty and community members.

Dedicating space and funds to projects such as the First Peoples’ Gathering House at SFU will ensure the enduring legacy of reconciliation initiatives on campus. It will change the way we think, act and interact with each other, our university culture and the Aboriginal communities on whose traditional and unceded territories Simon Fraser University is built.

As SFU begins the process to engage with the larger community about the ongoing utility and location of a First Peoples’ Gathering House, we are looking to consult across campus with all interested members of the SFU community including Elders, SFU staff, students and faculty. We also intend to get input of Aboriginal communities.

We invite you to participate and share your thoughts and feedback with us during this stage of the process. Some questions of consideration are:

  • How can we use this space to better support the needs of current and future Aboriginal students at SFU?
  • How can the First Peoples’ Gathering House be a welcoming space that connects all those who are involved with, and support Aboriginal students in successfully pursuing post-secondary education?
  • What amenities need to be housed in the First Peoples’ Gathering House?

Contact

Dr. Eldon Yellowhorn
Associate Professor, First Nations Studies
ecy@sfu.ca
778-782-8924

Ron Johnston
Interim Director, Office for Aboriginal Peoples
ronald_johnston@sfu.ca
778-782-8924