A concept plan for a new Indigenous centre is moving forward on the territories of the Coast Salish peoples in Vancouver.
The new centre will include a youth centre, a post-secondary education and skills training campus, affordable homes, a child care centre and cultural and support services.
“The realization of this project will not only be a transformational moment for Indigenous youth and their families who live in Metro Vancouver but it will be of an immense benefit to the city and the province as a whole,” said Matthew Norris, president, Urban Native Youth Association (UNYA). “This centre represents a significant step forward to addressing the legacy of residential schools, intergenerational trauma, and the realization of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The provisions of Indigenous programming and services by Indigenous organizations founded on Indigenous cultural values and principles is a foundational step forward and away from the ongoing legacy of colonialism. Indigenous youth and their community deserve a community hub they are proud of whose design represents their voices and interests, and where they feel safe and can access the programming and services that support their well-being as Indigenous Peoples.”
The new centre will be a permanent purpose-built home for UNYA and the Nicola Valley Institute of Technology (NVIT) Vancouver campus.
Guided by the calls to action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the B.C. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act, this centre will provide opportunities for Indigenous students and youth to learn and move forward in a culturally safe and supported environment.
“With more Indigenous people choosing to call Metro Vancouver home, there is a growing demand for community-based, culturally relevant services,” said Premier John Horgan. “This new centre will help meet the need and seize the opportunity, serving as a national example of Indigenous-led, transformational change. By working in partnership with Indigenous Peoples, we are building a stronger province where everyone has access to opportunities today and for generations to come.”
With the approval of the concept plan, government will also provide $2.5 million for the business-case development to finalize the project’s scope, timelines and funding sources.
“Reconciliation is a shared responsibility, and part of that work is supporting Indigenous-led solutions,” said Anne Kang, Minister of Advanced Education and Skills Training. “This project is a premier example of doing so. Positive profound impacts of this work will be felt for generations to come. UNYA and NVIT’s vision represents a better future for Indigenous people learning and living in Vancouver and sets an example for all of us about what can happen when you dream big.”
The current UNYA facility is not large enough for its growing community and is built in a way that can discourage youth from dropping in. The new centre is envisioned to provide a welcoming and centralized space for UNYA’s youth programming, including classrooms, media labs, art studios, community spaces for Elders, traditional ceremony spaces, health and wellness clinic, and gym and recreation areas.
NVIT currently leases space in Burnaby, far from many of the students it serves. The space is also at capacity and lacks specialized learning environments needed to expand its programs. NVIT’s new permanent home proposes to include purpose-built classrooms, media labs and lecture areas, trades workshop, library and study areas, and a student lounge.
In addition to child care and affordable homes for Indigenous people and families, the centre could also include common areas, such as a community kitchen and café, bookstore, outdoor gathering area and ceremonial spaces.
“For an entire generation, urban Indigenous youth have been planning for this day! The vision for this centre directly responds to numerous calls to action from young Indigenous leaders who challenged all levels of government to create pathways for them to thrive,” said Melanie Mark, MLA for Vancouver-Mount Pleasant. “This centre weaves culture, education, wellness and empowerment into a ground-breaking space for reconciliation. Most importantly, the creation of this first-of-its kind centre for excellence signals to all Indigenous youth that their lives matter. Indigenous youth deserve every opportunity to dream big and excel as they heal from the calculated decisions by former governments who used Indian residential schools to kill the Indian in the child.”
Land contributions from UNYA and the City of Vancouver, as well as a land donation from Suncor Energy Inc. have been conditionally secured.
“As B.C.'s only Indigenous public post-secondary institution that was founded by the five First Nations of the Nicola Valley and governed by a First Nations board of governors, NVIT has a mandate to provide post-secondary education and support services to Indigenous students across British Columbia,” said Ken Tourand, president, NVIT. “NVIT is excited to be working with UNYA to address the need for Indigenous education in urban Vancouver. This project will enable Indigenous youth to receive the support they require through UNYA and then transition to post-secondary education.”
The project is located on the territories of the Coast Salish people, which includes the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish) and sel̓íl̓witulh (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations. The building will be located at the corner of East Hastings Street and Commercial Drive in Vancouver, near UNYA’s current building.
The centre will be operated by UNYA, with partners NVIT and yet-to-be determined housing and child care operators that will be engaged through the City of Vancouver.
Cheryl Robinson, CEO, UNYA –
“This is the first concrete step in a long process to create a visionary, purpose-built Indigenous youth centre. This dynamic regional hub will foster a positive sense of belonging and access to a diverse continuum of culturally responsive programs and resources that include a supported pathway to higher education. UNYA is one of the best-kept secrets within Metro Vancouver, yet its growth and ability to meet the needs of Indigenous youth and their families has been hampered by an aging, cramped and unwelcoming building. UNYA and our community partners have long called for the creation of and investment in an Indigenous gateway and community hub within the city we now call home.”
A.C., UNYA participant who has attended programs for 14 years –
“UNYA kept me on the right tracks growing up. The love and support of UNYA kept me from drifting off those tracks into a life no one wants. To me, UNYA means a better community, a safer community. Safer than anything the streets have to offer. It was a place to develop new skills and talents. Developing these new skills and talents were secretly the best coping mechanism from anything life had to throw at me, and life threw some curve balls. Life's hard and UNYA makes it easier. UNYA’s the rainbow in the rain. UNYA’s the cold breeze on a hot day. UNYA’s the warm sun on a cold day. UNYA is home.”
Murray Rankin, Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation –
“This centre implements the vision of urban Indigenous youth and I lift my hands to the young people, governments and organizations who have helped breathe life into this project. This Indigenous-led centre gathers the services people need to thrive under one roof and in a way that is easier to access and more community-driven. Our action plan on the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples acknowledges the integral role of Indigenous-controlled post-secondary institutions and this collaboration is a great example that will benefit generations for years to come.”
Kennedy Stewart, mayor, Vancouver –
“As a city of reconciliation, Vancouver is honoured to be part of this exciting partnership with UNYA and the Province of B.C. to deliver culturally appropriate housing, services and community spaces. Supporting the development of an Indigenous centre in the heart of our city will help deepen efforts to combat the ongoing impacts of colonialism and racism on Indigenous people in our community and promote a path towards healing and empowerment.”
- UNYA is a not-for-profit society that supports Indigenous youth, often displaced and disconnected from their home communities, to have an inclusive and safe place to go to access essential programs and services.
- UNYA reports approximately 30,000 youth visits to its centre annually.
- NVIT is British Columbia’s only Indigenous-governed public post-secondary institution, with its main campus in Merritt and a provincial mandate to serve Indigenous students throughout B.C.
- In the 2020-21 academic year, there were 1,385 students enrolled, 80.5% of whom identified as Indigenous.
Learn more about UNYA: https://unya.bc.ca/
Learn more about NVIT: https://www.nvit.ca/
Learn more about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada Calls to Action: https://www2.gov.bc.ca/assets/gov/british-columbians-our-governments/indigenous-people/aboriginal-peoples-documents/calls_to_action_english2.pdf