Aboriginal cultural centre proposed for Nanaimo’s Beban Park

NANAIMO – Indigenous Peoples Place of Culture would offer child care, youth centre, public school and cultural hall.

Aboriginals of all nations could have their first cultural space to gather – a colossal new centre proposed for Nanaimo’s Beban Park.

The vision is to build the Indigenous Peoples Place of Culture, a 42,000-square-foot centre with licenced childcare, a youth centre, public school and cultural hall.

Its architects say there’s nothing like it for the urban aboriginal community in Nanaimo. The hope is that it will rest in the heart of the city at Beban Park, offering all indigenous people a place to celebrate and share culture as well as help with the healing of residential schools.

The idea came from a council of elders, representing five different nations, which wanted to see a space where culture could happen on a regular basis, said Chris Beaton, executive director with the Nanaimo Aboriginal Centre and a partner in the project, adding programs and services currently operate in non-traditional settings like multi-purpose rooms and classrooms.

“Many of these elders are from reserves where access to a big house is a pretty normal way of life, a physical place where community can come together to celebrate, to mourn, to share, to teach, to pass on stories, or song or dance or drum,” Beaton said. “We don’t have that opportunity. We don’t have that type of space in an urban environment.”

This is not a big house, which already exists in the Snuneymuxw First Nation territory, said Beaton. It is something different, open to the community and urban aboriginal people.

There would be nothing like it in B.C., said Beaton, who hopes to see it at Beban Park where there’s adequate parking, access to public transportation and close proximity to recreational facilities for about 100 children that would be at the centre on weekdays.

“It puts this building in the heart of the city,” he said. “It is an obvious and public demonstration that we have a rich aboriginal culture in this city and an aboriginal community in this city and we are part of the makeup of the city.”

The Parks and Recreation Commission has sought a staff report on whether the project fits within the new Beban Park Master Plan, but the concept has won early support in principle from the Culture and Heritage Commission. It’s unknown how much it will cost.

The Mid-Island Métis Nation and Boys and Girls Club of Central Vancouver Island are also partners in the project, which will be guided by community input and a council of elders and youths.

Sally Williams, chairwoman of the cultural centre’s elders council, likens the vision to the potlatch system, which provided a way of dealing with loss, trauma, the celebration of life and the coming of age.

She sees it as an opportunity for all aboriginal people to stand in unity, share values and knowledge and provide all generations the guidance they need. It’s also a ‘huge project’ needed to help with the healing of residential schools and other trauma.

“We are away from our communities. Some of us have never returned home from residential school, some of us have lost our communities, some of us don’t know where we came from because of residential school,” said Williams.

“Residential school caused many of our people to feel abandoned and not have a place, and the [cultural building] will give them a place to be accepted and recognized for what they have to offer,” she said.

Nanaimo News Bulletin