This story first appeared in the spring 2019 edition of Bridges Magazine: The Sustainability Issue. Bridges is the official publication of TRU alumni and friends, and can be read online in its entirety at tru.ca/bridges.
It’s a flat, grey, winter day, with a crunch of snow on the ground and frost in the air. As the door opens to Cplul’kw’ten, or The Gathering Place, warmth surrounds you.
An old, refurbished house, Cplul’kw’ten is a place of community, safety and support for Indigenous students at TRU. It’s also open to everyone.
Alice George found Cplul’kw’ten soon after she arrived at the university in fall of 2017. Now in her last semester of the Human Service program, she said the building and the people in it are her on-campus community.
“It helps me stay grounded knowing there’s Indigenous support. They understand where I’m coming from,” she said. “It’s like a home away from home.”
A place of comfort and support
Cplul’kw’ten supervisor Vernie Clement came to TRU as a student 17 years ago when the only support for Indigenous students was an Aboriginal co-ordinator with a small office at Student Services. Cplul’kw’ten has evolved into a place of comfort and support that’s bursting at the seams with services for Indigenous students.
The offices are open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mentors often stay later in the computer lab to accommodate students’ erratic schedules. Four days a week, between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., an elder is available to share insights and stories, words of wisdom and knowledge.
As is typical in any home, people congregate in the kitchen where there’s hot coffee, warm food and good company.
Wednesdays are Soup Circle days. Students are welcome to grab a bowl of hearty soup made by culinary arts students. The lunchtime gathering includes an opening circle, elder’s blessing and a presentation from a community group or an on-campus speaker, like Chelsea Corsi from the Wellness Centre, who hosts a talk called Soup, Sex and Bannock.
“It’s important to recognize it’s a culturally-safe space, an open space for people to come. It’s building a sense of belonging here,” said Clement. “Indigenous students walk in two or more worlds. They can feel comfortable with who they are in this space and not explain who they are.”
Clement said a few years ago, Cplul’kw’ten had 600 active files for students who were coming in for support. Today, the count is much higher and there’s so much demand that some programs have borrowed space from a neighbouring building.
George, who comes from a small community, is considering a bachelor of social work degree after she’s done her current program in spring. She said she might not be thinking about continuing with her studies at TRU if not for Cplul’kw’ten. It is home.