DAVE HILL WIPES AWAY A TEAR AS HE THINKS ABOUT HIS HARD-SCRABBLE upbringing on the Six Nations reserve at Grand River, Ont.
“You are surviving,” Hill says as he sits in a lecture theatre in the David F. Strong Building. “I grew up pretty fast but now I’ve shut a lot of those doors. My life turned around since I had my son. It’s come full circle here” at UVic.
Hill, a third-year political science student, has just finished giving a presentation on his experiences in a program that helps First Nations students fit into life at UVic. Hill had a rough time settling into the university’s culture.
But the affable 24-year-old was soon steered toward the Le, Nonet (pronounced Le NON-git) project. Le, Nonet—a Straits Salish word meaning “success after enduring many hardships”—is in its final year of a four-year pilot, offers Aboriginal students like Hill peer support, funding, and research and community apprenticeships. A program has also been developed for UVic faculty and staff to better support Aboriginal students.
“Without Le, Nonet, I wouldn’t be here,” Hill says.
Through the project, Hill was able to return to his home reserve on a fully-funded work-term where he sat in on negotiations between First Nations and federal government officials and worked at the Six Nations Eco-Centre.
An evaluation report, issued in November, indicated that the project has created a welcoming institutional climate, provided better financial aid, created links with surrounding First Nations communities and contributed to the students’ decision to return to school the following year.
“Each of these programs builds special relationships on campus and it would make me very sad if we lost any of this,” says Psychology Prof. Chris Lalonde, who is tracking Le, Nonet. The project is vital to Aboriginal students, Lalonde says. “It’s one-stop shopping.”
House Nearly Open
Construction is to be completed in July on the new First Peoples House. Located south of the University Centre, between the Clearihue and Cornett buildings, the 12,000-square-foot structure’s design is based on the pre-contact longhouses of the Coast Salish people.
The main entrance features a sheltered timber canopy and two welcoming poles. Major works of art for the house are being created by three outstanding Coast and Straits Salish artists: Doug Lafortune of the Tsawout First Nation, Xwa-lack-tun (Rick Harry) of the Squamish Nation, and Charles W. Elliot of the Tsartlip First Nation.
The house will include a ceremonial hall, kitchen, meeting and office space, and is intended to be a centre of support for more than 650 Aboriginal students and the broader community. Look for a full set of photos of the First Peoples House in the autumn issue of this magazine.
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