A concept plan for an urban Indigenous education centre is moving forward with support from the province.
The centre will be a permanent purpose-built home for the Urban Native Youth Association and the Nicola Valley Institute of Technology (NVIT) Vancouver campus at the corner of Commercial Drive and East Hastings nearby the Association’s current building. It will also include housing, childcare spaces, as well as spaces like a community kitchen and café, bookstore, outdoor gathering area and ceremonial spaces.
Vancouver-Mount Pleasant MLA Melanie Mark has been involved in the visioning process of this project for two decades. At a news conference on Friday (May 6), Mark shared that her grandparents had been forced to attend residential school. For her, seeing the project come to fruition was a powerful example of how education can uplift Indigenous people rather than be wielded against them as a tool of oppression.
“This centre weaves culture, education, wellness and empowerment into a groundbreaking centre for excellence. It signals to all Indigenous youth that their lives matter. Indigenous youth deserve every opportunity to dream big as they heal from the calculated decisions by former governments who used residential schools to kill the Indian in the child.”
NVIT is the only public post-secondary institution in B.C. with an Indigenous mandate. It was founded by First Nations leadership in the Nicola Valley to create a university founded on First Nations ethics and beliefs to help Indigenous students survive.
NVIT first began holding classes in the basement of the Lower Nicola Band Hall 39 years ago and has grown to become an award-winning institution. NVIT’s main campus is located in Merritt with a satellite campus in Burnaby. The space in Burnaby is far from where many of NVIT’s students live and does not offer enough space to expand their programs.
In the 2020-21 academic year, there were 1,385 students enrolled at NVIT, 80.5 per cent of whom self-identified as Indigenous.
“Today’s announcement will continue to ensure NVIT meets the needs of urban students by creating a culturally safe and appropriate campus in the heart of Vancouver,” Chief Lee Spahan of the Coldwater Indian Band said. “Partnering with the Urban Native Youth Association makes so much sense as the transition from youth to post-secondary student will be seamless.”
The province will contribute $2.5 million in funding for the business case development to finalize the project’s scope, timelines and funding sources.
Land contributions from the Urban Native Youth Association, the City of Vancouver and a land donation from Suncor have been conditionally secured as a future home for the project. Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart said he would work to expedite the approval process to get construction started as soon as possible.
Premier John Horgan called the project an example of “reconciliation in action” and hoped it would inspire First Nations across B.C. to come up with similar initiatives.
“This new centre will help meet the need and seize the opportunity, serving as a national example of Indigenous-led, transformational change. By working in partnership with Indigenous Peoples, we are building a stronger province where everyone has access to opportunities today and for generations to come.”