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The Waap Galts'ap Vision

Stephanie Forsyth
President (2000-2010)
Northwest Community College

“For many years, First Nations and Métis of the Northwest have been calling upon post-secondary institutions to provide more welcoming and supportive learning environments for their students. From the classroom to the architecture of buildings, western colonial values and perspectives have predominated. In the Northwest, where the percentage of the First peoples is higher per capita than anywhere else in BC and many regions in Canada, Northwest Community College believes it has a responsibility to provide more culturally appropriate learning environments. So we are trying to accomplish this in many ways, including through the creation of buildings patterned after traditional First Nations structures.

Through the building of the Waap Galts’ap long house, a first at a Canadian community college, NWCC is taking yet another step in demonstrating that this is a college for all people in the Northwest, not just for non-Aboriginal students. You may recall that less than 10 years ago, the percentage of Aboriginal students attending NWCC was far lower than it is today. While the numbers are not precise, we estimate that overall, less than 15 per cent of the student body was of Aboriginal descent. Today, we have made many changes throughout the College to recognize and celebrate the rich culture and knowledge of Aboriginal people living in the Northwest and the success of these changes is demonstrated in part by our student body - nearly 50 per cent of whom are now of Aboriginal descent. This percentage is much more representative of the region’s demographics.

Waap Galts'ap is a very deliberate attempt to redress colonization by providing a learning environment that does not seek to assimilate, but rather seeks to encourage understanding, respect, awareness and celebration of the rich traditions and culture of Northwest First Nations. In so doing, we hope we have created a gathering place in which all people of the Northwest will enjoy meeting and learning and engaging in special events.

Waap Galts’ap is testament to the College’s commitment to serving First Nations learners more appropriately and reinforces our absolute sincerity in striving to make this college a welcoming place for all learners.”

“Waap Galts’ap is having a profound impact on First Nations communities. Through this building, we are helping to bring back the physical expressions of a culture, which was almost lost due to previous Canadian laws and policies. The designing and building of Waap Galts’ap has engaged First Nations Elders and community members in a process that has generated significant pride, ownership and emotion.”

Waap Galts’ap is intended to be a gathering and learning place for the students and communities we serve. As a physical facility, it is available for use for special occasions, events, learning gatherings and meetings. As a showcase for Northwest First Nations architecture and art, the long house provides a glimpse of the traditions of the first peoples of this region and the strikingly beautiful symbols and expressions of their rich culture.”

“We certainly faced our challenges with the construction of the longhouse. First, the foundation was poured backwards, as the cultural significance of having the main entrance to the building face the highway was not understood and the plans were thought to have been mistakenly ‘turned around.’ Then, the size of logs required for the building to be true to the traditional style, were almost impossible to find – it set the entire project back by at least eight months. Then we had the challenge of handling and crafting those massive logs; those were not easy times. But then it was like we turned a corner and things started falling into place. And while there have been some frustrations along the way, nothing has compared to those first few months; people are proud to be working on such a stunning building.

Money has also been a challenge and remains so today. I am grateful to the Board of Governors in forging ahead even when not all the dollars were in place. Donations are still coming in and I am hopeful that when people see the building they will realize the importance of supporting this initiative.”

“May 8, 2010 is going to be an amazing day. It purposefully coincides with the last day of our annual Aboriginal education conference or as we call it, Gathering, and as a result people from across the globe will be with us to witness this historic occasion. There hasn’t been one person I have encountered who has had a glimpse of this building, who isn’t completely impressed with what is being created. I look forward to sharing this with the College community and the public, to seeing the expressions on people’s faces and hearing their reactions when they see the building for the first time. I am especially looking forward to sharing this day with the Elders and First Nations people who have worked with us to make this dream a reality.