TRU Williams Lake celebrated the unveiling of a new designated parking space for Indigenous Elders outside the campus this past week.
All told around 30 elders, community members and TRU students and staff gathered Friday to mark the occasion with a few brief speeches, a ceremonial drum circle and a blessing delivered by several local Elders. While it seems a small gesture, it’s an important part of recognizing the importance Indigenous Elders play in both their local communities and within the community of TRU itself.
The initial push that set events in motion was made by Cecilia DeRose, an Elder originally from Esket (Alkali Lake) who often will visit TRU throughout the school year either in a volunteer or teaching role. Often when she came to TRU to teach linguistic or cultural classes, she’d find it difficult or even impossible to find parking close to TRU. This would get especially bad in the winter with ice and snow or whenever she needed to backtrack for a toonie to pay for parking, which led to her lodging a formal complaint.
“It was just a pain in the butt,” DeRose remarked with a laugh.
DeRose is hopeful this new space, free for Elders, will make things easier for both her and the other elders who make frequent visits to TRU. Seeing it finally be set aside with its own sign was a real thrill for her, she said, and it will be something she intends to make avid use of.
TRU Williams Lake’s dean Baldev Pooni, a 30-year education veteran, was happy to help facilitate setting aside this space for DeRose and the other Elders. Pooni said it’s a part of TRU’s ongoing effort to create and maintain a welcoming environment for all, including Indigenous students.
“We’re fortunate to have the elders be on campus to support all students but in particular Indigenous students. They have busy lives coming in and off-campus for meetings… so this (parking space) is a small way of us being able to give back to the individuals for their immense contribution to TRU,” Pooni said.
If one space isn’t enough, Pooni said they’ll look into possibly adding more spots designated for Elders in the future. While it will cost TRU a small amount of money, he feels it’s important to not only recognize their contributions but also ensure their safety, as the parking lot has been known to get icy as winter sets in.