3D renderings of the Yale First Nation community house, which is in the design stages with plans for the building to be completed by the fall of 2022. David Nairne and Associates/submitted photo

Yale First Nation draw up plans for $10-million community house project

Multi-purpose building in design phase and over half funded, will sit on Yale land along Highway 1

Yale First Nation is in the design stages of an approximately $10-million community house on the nation’s land along Highway 1.

Currently in the design phase, the multi-use building will sit along Highway 1 at the Nation’s land at Stullawheets (IR 8), a 13 kilometre drive from Hope. Surrounded by the lower Fraser Canyon’s mountains, the building is the first space the community will have for administration and health services, as well as being a cultural and a gathering space.

The decision to locate the building at Stullawheets, one of the 16 reserves that form Yale First Nation’s land base, was because it is a“neutral piece and it’s easily accessible” said Chief Ken Hansen. “This keeps it away from the heart of our community, but close and accessible for everyone using it,” he added, as people from outside the community will be visiting or working out of the building.

Entering the planned two-storey 26,150 square foot building, visitors will enter an atrium with a ‘contemporary reference to the historic pit house’ design in the middle explains Maureen Long at David Nairne + Associates Ltd, who are working on the project with Yale. A winter home common to Yale and other Fraser Canyon First Nations and beyond, it was a dwelling widely used for at least 3,500 years according to the Canadian Encyclopedia.

Yale’s plans for the building include a dedicated health wing including nursing and exam rooms, a doctors office as well as spaces for a traditional healer and a community gathering space. Other medical-related services will be positioned in a commercial wing of the building, including a dentist and pharmacy.

The idea, from the nation’s health department, was to have a “one-stop shop” for health as there is a need for these services among members and other residents from Boston Bar to Hope. Elsie Kipp, the nation’s administrator, said the hope is to be open to non-members as well.

“Right now a lot of people suffer from very high anxiety, for lots of different reasons, and it’s not being recognized so much in the actual institutions,” Hansen said of both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. “A lot of people have underlying trauma that needs to be addressed and respected and I feel that in house, we can take care of that a lot better than trying to teach somebody about it. We lived it, we learned it and we can take care of it ourselves.”

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A circular staircase will lead up to an area with administrative offices, allowing Yale to move their office from Hope out onto Yale land. Long said the space the first nation now uses on Hudson Bay Street became to small for the nation, with over a dozen people working out of the current office and working on a range of housing, educational, health, finance and other programs.

This resulted in staff sometimes having to share space or renting additional space for meetings. It was this need for more space, as the nation expanded its programming, that was a major push behind the new building. As well, Hansen said, the nation has never had its own band office that belonged to the people, with the former band office located on the private property of a former chief before the office was moved into Hope.

Read more: Corruption no longer dogs Yale First Nation

A space to learn, explore and practice culture, determined by the community

A hall of ancestral teaching and learning is part of the design, envisioned as a wide open space Long said. The building will also house a standard size gym, and a fitness room.

How exactly people will use the space is up to them, Hansen said. He is adamant that the idea for the building itself, as well as how it will be used, comes from Yale First Nation members.

“What our citizens choose to do in these spaces is their choice,” Hansen said. “What we’re doing is creating the opportunity for something if they choose to do it…creating space for people to grow and learn and explore, that’s my job.”

There is also potential for growth and expansion at Stullawheets Hansen said, “but it has to be done with the people.”

“We kind of focused our direction now on building our community as people and seeing where they want to go,” he said. “That’s the reason for our social work being ramped up. I don’t want to just put things down on the ground if they don’t want them. And that’s easy to do.”

The conception of this project came from community meetings, where members gathered.

There are 60 Yale First Nation members living on Yale lands, as well as an additional 100 or so community members who are not Yale members, and 120 members living away.

What resulted were comprehensive community plans, and the desire for a house, a home of their own. “It became very clear that they wanted a place where they could have the opportunity to learn, to grow, with their language and their culture,” Hansen said. There are members who speak Halq’eméylem and others who speak Nlaka’pamux (Nlaka’pamuxtsn), as the first nation straddles both the Stó:lo and Nlaka’pamux territories. The nation’s history is interpreted in a variety of ways by different citizens, Hansen said, and not everyone agrees on the historical roots of the Yale First Nations people.

People needed a ‘neutral space’ Hansen said, “where they can feel free and safe to learn.”

“There was a negative vibe in the past about what is our culture? Who are we? We were always told who we are by, by leadership. Yet we have people from all walks of life living within our community and they’re asking who they are and they’re being told who they are,” he said.

“I think if you want to know who you are you need to have the opportunity and space created to find out and learn and listen and understand who you are. It may be a blend of two or three different cultures.”

Construction to be completed by fall 2022

The project is in the design phase, Long said, and designs should be completed by this fall. Construction will be ongoing over the next few years, she added, with a proposed completion date in the fall of 2022. “The building will showcase locally sourced BC wood and will exceed the national energy code for buildings,” a news release stated.

Securing funding for such a large project is still ongoing – in early July $2.9 million in federal Invest in Canada Infrastructure program funding was announced for the build. The project also has $2.5 million in funding from the First Nations Health Authority, to go towards building the health wing. Another half-million in Indigenous Services Canada funding is also a possibility, to fund the administration area.

Hansen said the long-standing relationships with different government ministries, contractors, consultants and Indigenous Service Canada as well as the “long-standing financial credibility” of the nation made funding over half the project possible.

For the rest of the funding, Hansen the nation has a range of own-source revenue projects they can capitalize on, including a thermolysis biochar project, forestry operations, a coming cannabis retail business and joint ventures on the Trans Mountain pipeline project. Leasing or renting the nation’s building in Hope is also a possibility. And all of this gives the nation credibility and reputation should they approach the banks Hansen said.

Part of the plans for the building involve the construction of a better way of accessing the community from Highway 1, which is currently a quick turn from the highway onto a side road. The plan is to put in a new highway intersection to the building and the community.

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