Lethbridge is moving forward in its planning stages for a new Indigenous Cultural Centre (ICC), a project that could see up to 26,000 square feet of land utilized as an educational and ceremonial gathering space for Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in the community.
After extensive consultation with Indigenous groups, schools, economic development and tourism, the city and Lethbridge citizens, priorities for the space include a location that is accessible, close to the river valley and to nature, with space for ceremony and gatherings.
The facility is also tasked with using sustainable, natural elements, Indigenous cultural references and to remain open and welcoming to anyone interested in using the space.
Perry Stein, Indigenous relations adviser for the city, says the site would do more for the city than it appears on first glance.
“One of the things we thought about early on in this project is that the cultural centre is an opportunity to do reconciliation,” he said.
“It’s an opportunity to build bridges between people. This is not a cultural centre for a specific demographic of people, this is a centre for the 100,000-plus people in the city, but also in the region.”
In a project destination statement, the report explained, “The Lethbridge Indigenous Cultural Centre will be for everyone.
“It will be safe place which bridges the distance between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples in the Lethbridge region, and it will meet the community’s physical and cultural needs through the creation of Ethical Space.”
City council approved a feasibility study of the Indigenous Cultural Centre in the 2018 – 2027 capital improvement plan.
The cultural centre is intended to explore several themes of Indigenous culture, including:
- Traditional food
- Language and learning
- Visual and performance arts
- Place-making with community and ceremonial spaces
- The voice of the land
- Health, wellness, community and family
- Creative economy, tourism and entrepreneurship
Stein says the extensive consultation with community groups showed a number of main focuses, but highlighted the need for a physical space or spaces.
“I think we need a physical location that’s central, that’s for the Indigenous population of Lethbridge, and I think it’s time,” he said.
Heading forward, a governing board with a governance model will need to be established.
Plans for an outdoor gathering space will also be solidified, on the strong recommendation of several community groups.
“There’s an opportunity for this to be something we grow into overtime,” Stein said.
The strategy presented at Monday’s council meeting recommended starting with some development in the space, leaving room for future development of classrooms, restaurants and other expansion.
“Lethbridge is an Indigenous community,” Stein said, “but there’s very little reflection of Blackfoot culture in the urban fabric of this community and in the programs and services that are offered.
“So this is a great opportunity to not only meet the needs of the community but generate opportunities for the community.”
British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and the Yukon Territory each have cultural centres already to celebrate and explore Indigenous culture.