Indigenous students make up a vast majority of the College of New Caledonia’s (CNC) yearly enrolment, coming from rural communities across the north to Prince George in hopes of higher education.
The transition, for most young people, comes the burden of moving, renting, and maintaining a life in a brand new environment, which has inspired the province to lend a helping hand.
Today (May 24), B.C. Advanced Education Minister Melanie Mark announced a $2.6 million government investment towards a new housing project for CNC, which will have 12 furnished rooms for 12 future Indigenous students of the post-secondary institution.
“This is about creating greater opportunities for student success and employment,” said Mark. “And the way you do that is to create a culturally appropriate environment. This is the first of its kind, it’s been a call to action since the 1990s, and our government is committed to investing in student success. It’s a big deal to land on a campus and not knowing where to go, so we’re really thrilled to be part of this project.”
.@melaniejmark announces a new 12-room house for future @cnc_bc_ca Indigenous students 🏠 There will also be an elder-in-residence to maintain cultural connections | #CityOfPG #bced @PGMatters pic.twitter.com/PAONRnmsS0— Kyle Balzer (@KyleBalzer) May 24, 2019
To help keep the students connected with their cultural heritage, the facility will also include a suite for an Elder to provide student support when needed, a shared kitchen, living area, washrooms and laundry facilities, as well as a designated area for cultural practices, teachings and activities.
The 4,735 sq. ft. building will be located in front of CNC’s student house on the Prince George campus off 22nd Ave., will only house first-year Indigenous students, and is expected to have full occupancy by Spring 2020.
“It wasn’t easy leaving home and I was an emotional mess on my first day,” said CNC second-year student Damon Robinson, who has come all the way from Gitanmaax near Hazelton on the traditional territory of the Gitsxan Nation to study Web and Graphic Design.
“I didn’t realize how important it was to surrounded by my own culture and I took it for granted. I failed my second semester, which was my own fault. But I found what I was looking for. I found that support system as others with similar stories to me. My hope with this aboriginal housing project is that it develops a community and it gives hopes to students like me an opportunity to not have to go without that presence of being Indigenous.”
“We’ve always believed that a safe welcoming supportive home would give Indigenous students the foundation for continued success,” Lheidli T’enneh Chief Clay Pountney said during the formal presentation, adding this project has been a long time coming.
“As the Host First Nation, our Elders Advisory representatives have always been involved to get this whole project moving. We look forward to the completion of the new building and welcoming Indigenous students from all areas.”
Mark’s final comments were about maintaining rights and values and see more Indigenous students succeed in classrooms, which is one potential step towards reconciliation.
“The needs of Prince George are different, the community is different. When you talk about its own unique needs and the benefits of living in the north, you have to experience it to truly understand it, which is why a housing project like this is so important. My family is from the Nass Vally and Haida Gwaii; there’s an appreciation to experience nature, to hunt, and to fish. So, having family like that up here helps with working and enjoying life.”
Other speakers at the morning conference included Prince George Mayor Lyn Hall, CNC President Henry Reiser, and Lheidli T'enneh Elder Darlene McIntosh.