The leaking building located just off the highway was where NIȽ TU,O Child and Family Services Society called home for over a decade.
Shown above: the main building, before and after pictures.
This inhospitable environment made obvious what was later proven by Cindy Blackstock at the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal; that for decades indigenous children’s services received only 40% of the funding non-Indigenous children’s services received.
In 2016, the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ordered the Federal Government to fund supports for Indigenous Children on par with non-indigenous children. From this landmark decision, NIȽ TU,O, which serves 7 South Island Indigenous communities, at last, received the necessary funding to secure adequate facilities.
Beginning with remediation, the building was reduced to its frame and almost entirely rebuilt in a process that would eventually take nearly 18 months at the onset of the COVID pandemic. Architect Karen Hillel and Jason Pierik of Outlook Project Management worked together to realize the vision of Executive Director Katharina Stocker; to provide a culturally resonant, warm, and welcoming place for the children and families accessing programs and services.
Shares Jason of Outlook Project Management, “It’s a huge honour to be a part of the project. I am grateful to be trusted and so excited about the outcome.”
As the only Coast Salish style building visible from the highway between Swartz Bay Ferry Terminal and downtown Victoria, the renovation of NIȽ TU,O building began with a sunrise land blessing led by Pauquachin born Maryann Thomas, wife of the late Esquimalt Chief Andy Thomas. Maryann spoke at length about the history of the land, the past generations that were previously located on the same land, and the importance of doing the work in and on the building in a good way – with no bad language or bad feelings – to ensure the workers would be safe from injury.
The renovations were complete in the Spring of 2021. Now, the stunning multi-building facility stands as a physical representation of the mission of the organization: “to rebuild Coast Salish communities by NUTSAMAUT SKWALAWAN (working together as one) based on who we are as NEW (people) by providing programs and services built on a foundation of our SNEPENEK (teaching) of our SULKWAN (Elders)”.
The society’s new building truly facilitates the breaking down of barriers and strengthening of Coast Salish communities by providing a safe place to deliver culturally appropriate programs and services to families and children.
Numerous design elements support the organization’s mission and day-to-day work, from large-scale design features to thoughtful details throughout. For instance, the prominent Basket Weave both shelters the walkway between entrances and demonstrates unmistakable Coast Salish pride.
Shown above: the Coast Salish inspired basket weave design
The main building interior features a color palette inspired by ocean, forest and beach which helps to provide a warm and welcoming atmosphere, so unlike the grey tones and harsh lights of colonial service centers. NIȽ TU,O, staff wellbeing is a priority; each desk can adjust to a standing configuration, and staff is encouraged to rest on a couch, grow plants, exercise during breaks, or bike ride to work. Big windows, a chill-out room, and a shower are all provided.
Executive Director Katharina Stocker explains,
“When our staff is properly supported and they feel taken care of they can do a better job supporting our families and children. We need to get rid of the idea that we deserve less than (non-indigenous organizations). We deserve the same investments in our wellbeing.”
The southern building features a comfortable grandparent’s room that supports knowledge transfer and the honoring of elders, a generous supply of crafts as well as the main boardroom. Throughout are safe spaces that support gathering and connection, from the outdoor picnic tables to the numerous kitchens to the colourful office chairs just for kids.
Shown above: The professionally organized craft and supply room
Shown above: a welcoming gathering area
Shown above; the main boardroom complete with a large kitchen
The third Cultural building offers a private place for cultural activities like carving and drum making, providing plenty of space for youth to work with elders on large projects. The cultural building’s outdoor space is sheltered from the rain and nearby commerce and is planted with Indigenous plants which encourage the connection to the land and traditional medicines from plant relatives.
Shown above: Native plants in an outdoor garden area
Despite the proximity to the highway and related services, the environment is private, quiet, and gets a lot of sunshine. The overall result of the vast improvements to the building is noticeable in the staff and the families and children NIȽ TU,O serves.
“The staff is happier and almost everyone who comes through the door mentions how welcoming it is here” Stocker continues.
It isn’t just the families and staff that have noticed the stunning new Coast Salish building off Highway 17 and Mt. Newton Cross, the NIȽ TU,O project has been nominated for Best Commercial Project of 2021 by the CARE Awards.
“It’s taken a long time to get here, 12 years. It is a relief to be able to meet the needs of our children and their families physically, in a culturally safe manner, with the resources we should have had in the first place.” Stocker explains.