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Aboriginal centre launched

September 23, 2013
Susan Down

A waterfront aboriginal cultural centre received a new name and the community’s blessing at the official launch celebration Sept. 23 at Royal Roads University.  

The celebration included aboriginal dance and drumming performances, a feast of traditional food, and speeches by Advanced Education Minister Amrik Virk, Royal Roads President Allan Cahoon and First Nations elders including Chief Andy Thomas (Esquimalt), Chief Russell Chipps (Beecher Bay) and Songhees councillor John Rice Jr.  The event attracted many from the RRU community as well.  

Sneq’wa e’lun (BlueHeron House) is the new name for the building (formerly called the Aboriginal Learning and Cultural Centre) situated on Esquimalt Lagoon. The traditional Lekwungen name was chosen by attendees who voted for their favourite from names of three animals symbolically important to the Coast Salish.  

“Converting an old boat-storage building into a modern and attractive Aboriginal Learning and Cultural Centre reflects Royal Roads’ commitment to sustainability and cultural heritage protection,” said Royal Roads University president and vice-chancellor Allan Cahoon. “One of the essential features of the building is to create a space that acknowledges and celebrates the history and culture of local Coast Salish Nations and provides a welcoming environment for both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students, staff and faculty.”

The university has more than 220 aboriginal alumni and more than 150 aboriginal students.

“Another important aspect of the space is the strong connection to communities through Elders,” said Asmanahi Antoine, the new indigenous education and student services manager at Royal Roads. “Elders have been a significant part of our consultation process, and they will continue to be active cultural advisors in our approach to education, both on campus and in their respective communities throughout British Columbia and Canada.”

The province provided $600,000 to renovate the building (it was an old boat storage building previously) using reclaimed wood for beams and finishing work from a large decommissioned structure on Vancouver Island.