SHERBROOKE -- Quebec Education Minister Jean-Francois Roberge announced Friday that the province will spend $5.9 million to transform the Divinity House at Bishop's University into a gathering space and resource centre for Indigenous students.
The Sherbrooke university's Divinity House, which was built in 1892, has been unused since it was shut down in 2014 because of structural damage. Inspired by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada's report in 2015, the University said it has been seeking a way to create a dedicated space on campus for its Indigenous students.
The centre will have classrooms and offices for students and faculty, apartments for visiting Indigenous elders and academics, and resources for both study and recreation.
"Our hope is that this Indigenous Students' Gathering Space and Resource Centre will be a place of discussion, learning and sharing for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous members of our community to help foster reconciliation, healing and understanding" Bishop's University's principal and vice-chancellor Michael Goldbloom said in a statement Friday.
In addition to the $5.9 million in government funding, the university has committed to raising another $1 million for the project, $100,000 of which has already been collected.
Roberge said he hopes the centre will become "a vital and inspiring place for Indigenous students, first and foremost, and for the student community in the region."
"We want to recognize the importance of the Indigenous culture, and we want to reinforce the importance that we allow the possibility to the Indigenous people to go as far as they want. So if they want to go to university, there is a safe space for them here," he said.
The centre will have large windows overlooking the scenic campus, which sits on unceded Abenaki First Nation Territory.
This parking lot will be transformed into an outdoor gathering space, and the inside will feature a gallery with native art and exhibitions.
There will also be area exclusively reserved for Indigenous students.
"This will be more than a house. This will be a place for native students that travelled a long way to go to school, that when they're lonely and they just want to go home, they can go home," said Odanak Abenaki Council Chief Richard O'Bomsawin.
Indigenous student leader Alicia Moore-Iseroff said it also serves to give students an opportunity to see themselves at Bishops.
"It's hard to relate to other students too, because we don't have the same background and culture, but seeing all the art that's going to be there, it's going to make us feel more at home," she said.
Work on the centre is to begin this fall and is expected to be completed in 2021.