First Peoples’ Gathering House to be built on Burnaby campus by 2023

Jointly funded by SFU and the BC government, the Gathering House is intended to “celebrate Indigenous knowledge and culture”

Photo courtesy of SFU News

Written by: Devana Petrovic, Staff Writer

On June 19, SFU announced the building of a First Peoples’ Gathering House, meant to provide Indigenous students with a ceremonial and community space on Burnaby campus.

The Gathering House is being funded by both SFU and the provincial government, who have contributed a 6.4 million dollar fund in collaboration with SFU’s 8.6 million dollar fund. Funding from SFU is a part of SFU’s Aboriginal Strategic Initiative, which aims to invest in projects in support of reconciliation efforts on all campuses. 

The space will be located near the Trottier Observatory and will be 1,346square metres, featuring a ceremonial hall with a capacity for events of up to 300 people. The Gathering House will also consist of an Elders’ room, classroom, wellness room, dressing room, food service room, and an Indigenous peoples lounge. 

In a statement to The Peak, Matthew Provost, VP Student Services of the Simon Fraser Student Society (SFSS), explained that the building of the Gathering House “is just one of the ways we can recognize how the institution is changing.” Provost stated that even 30 years ago, providing space for Indigenous students in this way would not be seen. 

“‘Reconciliation efforts’ have really shown why these initiatives are important not only for Indigenous students but the community as a whole [ . . . ] This will be a reminder for others on campus [on] the importance of recognizing whose land we are on [ . . . ] For future Indigenous students this will benefit them in very positive ways and I hope they are able to see this as a safe space,” stated Provost. 

In a BC government news release, MLA for the Burnaby-Lougheed riding Katrina Chen, commented that, “Indigenous students at the Burnaby Mountain campus will have a beautiful new space to celebrate their culture and connect with their community.”

However, Provost has raised concerns in how the institution has gone forward with Indigenous-focused projects in the past, hoping “there is more consultation in the future with Indigenous students going forward with this project. Previous projects [ . . . ] have shown why this is necessary.” Provost provided the atrium, located by the Indigenous studies department, as an example. 

“This was intended for Indigenous students, but somewhere down the line it became [a] public space. I have high expectations for the university to do this work in a good way.”

Provost added, “This project has the ability to strengthen the relationship between SFU and Indigenous students and community [ . . . ] Going forward decisions made for Indigenous students without Indigenous student input is not reconciliation. Nothing about us without us.” 

On behalf of the First Nations Student Association (FNSA) board, Zachary Pelletier issued a short statement to The Peak: “The FNSA is very excited to see the gathering house built at SFU. It will be a place on campus where we can hold events in a more comfortable and decolonized atmosphere.” 

A clip of the announcement, conducted on the space where the Gathering House will be built, is on SFU’s official YouTube channel.