Construction has started on a new Indigenous Cultural Space at Portage College’s Lac La Biche campus – but the College still needs to raise $134,000 to complete the entire project. As a result, the post-secondary institution is launching a capital campaign on Monday, April 26, to help raise enough money to complete the project in the next couple of months. Like everyone else, Portage is facing increased building costs due to high lumber prices but staffers overseeing fundraising efforts are hopeful they can raise 60% of the cost for the project that was not covered by a grant ($38,000) from the Canada Infrastructure Plan. As per the grant, the project must be completed by June 30, but the capital campaign will continue, to support this area into the future.
“Yes, $172,000 is a big number but we’re excited to have this opportunity to contribute to this project,” said Rick Flumian, Community Relations Manager at Portage College. “We are worried that with increased construction material costs, we may not be able to complete all phases of the project but if the past 50 years are any guide, we know that businesses and individuals in the communities we serve will step up to help us reach our goal.”
So far, the College has raised over $28,000 towards the project with donations from Cenovus Energy and the Students’ Association of Portage College (SAPC). The College also held a raffle organized by the Portage College Athletics Association which raised $14,658.
“Thank you to the many people that helped by purchasing raffle tickets. It has helped tremendously with reaching our goal,” said Flumian. “We are so lucky to have so many amazing partners and supporters of Portage College. We are so grateful to Cenovus Energy, who donated $12,500, and the SAPC, who donated $1,500.”
“As Indigenous students pursue education and training opportunities, it’s important to ensure a continued connection to, and preservation of, cultural practices and traditions,” said Lise Warawa, Senior Advisor, Community & Indigenous Affairs with Cenovus Energy Inc. “Cenovus is pleased to…be a part of this project, which is another great example of Portage College’s understanding of and appreciation for the communities it serves. Cenovus thanks [Portage] for the opportunity to be a partner in this unique initiative in the spirit of the Indigenous culture.”
The Indigenous Cultural Space will provide dedicated space, open to everyone, for cultural and spiritual events, ceremonies, and educational opportunities. This is particularly meaningful for First Nations, Métis and Inuit students who comprise nearly half of the student population at Portage College.
Currently, without the dedicated space, many programs and students must plan well ahead for traditions like smudging (a way of cleansing with the smoke or sacred herbs and resins) as the smoke can set off the College’s fire alarms and cause breathing issues for some staff, students and visitors. Ventilation improvements in the new cultural space will alleviate this concern. The project is in keeping with Portage’s strong Indigenous roots and will benefit students and staff for years to come.
“As students, sometimes life can get overwhelming and stressful. Smudging allows people to stop, slow down, and become mindful and centered,” said Katelynn Manuel, SAPC President. “The student council feels this venue will provide an important role in the lives of our Indigenous students, as well as bring awareness and education to others who are unfamiliar with the Indigenous cultures.”
Tanya Mustus, a student from Sturgeon Lake Cree Nation currently enrolled in the Aboriginal Arts Certificate program, wholeheartedly agrees.
"This is a space to call ours, a place for smudging, prayer, re-grouping, relaxing, seeking counsel, speaking to my spirits and so many other possibilities,” she said. “When I first started at Portage College, I was questioning my choices. If I knew a room like this was in the works, it would have eased my second guessing. Knowing there is going to be a place to go when I’m in need of spiritual guidance is calming. When you are lonely or angry or sad or even lost, this room can ground you and re-connect you to your inner strength, no matter how far away from home you are."
To help the College reach its $200,000 fundraising goal, please visit https://www.portagecollege.ca/IndigenousCulturalSpaceCampaign. Any donation over $25 is eligible for a taxable receipt. Please contact Rick Flumian at 780-404-3405 or firstname.lastname@example.org for more information or if you’d like to suggest other ways you can help. Thank you.