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Camosun soon to have new Aboriginal Gathering Place

Architects drawing of the Aboriginal Gathering Place at Camosun.June 17, 2010

Three eagles circled far above, as the construction foreman was asked to delay the start of Camosun’s new Aboriginal Gathering Place. It was important to first hold a blessing ceremony, he was told, before any land was disturbed.

On May 5, 2010, Camosun’s Aboriginal Education and Community Connections (AECC) department held the blessing ceremony at Lansdowne campus, where the new Aboriginal Gathering Place is now being built. Lansdowne campus sits on Coast Salish land, and was known as a place to gather camas bulbs, a main staple in the traditional diets of First Nations people.

To guide the blessing ceremony, AECC invited two well-respected spiritual leaders: Mary Ann Thomas of the Esquimalt First Nation and Elmer George of the Songhees, or Lekwungen Nation.

It’s about respect

“Mary Ann explained why we need this ceremony to show our respect for the land,” says Sandee Mitchell, AECC faculty member. “It’s to ask our ancestors for permission to disturb the land and to explain to the ancestors what the land will be used for. We show our respect to the people who came before us and ask their permission to remove some earth and rock, in order to create a special gathering place for students and community. And we pray for the protection and safety of the workers as they create this new structure.”

To begin the ceremony, construction foreman, Dave Mace was asked to mark the exact centre of the new building, and to outline in chalk the outside border. Mace is employed by Canpro Construction Ltd, the company granted the contract to build the gathering place. But Mace also has a personal connection to Camosun: he took university transfer courses in 1989 before deciding to enter the carpentry trade and attended Camosun for the required technical training during his four-year apprenticeship.

A small fire was lit on the centre mark, and four people gathered around it: Sandee Mitchell, Dave Mace, Aboriginal Advisor Faye Martin, and Esquimalt First Nation Chief Andy Thomas.

“It was such an honour to have Chief Thomas participate with us,” says Mitchell. “His presence at the ceremony gives us hope for the future of this sacred place.” The four people then walked in four directions – north, south, east and west – to the border outline. Mary Ann Thomas and Elmer George sang a song of blessing, and said a prayer for the protection of the workers, and for the future students who will use the new facility. The border was painted with red ochre.

Full circle

As the ceremony drew to a close, participants noticed a lone eagle flying overhead, and Mace told the group about the three eagles he had witnessed earlier. It seemed the fourth eagle completed the blessing, and indicated the ancestors’ acceptance of Camosun’s new Aboriginal Gathering Place.

Grand opening this September

Construction will continue through the summer, with an expected completion date in early September. The Salish-inspired structure will have a unique open design, inspired by Lekwungen Elder, Mr. Butch Dick, and developed by Brad Shuya Architect Inc. Funding was provided by BC’s Ministry of Advanced Education.

To honour the opening, AECC will host a second blessing ceremony, which will be open to the public.

Last updated: June 18, 2010 11:35 am

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