Last week I attended the grand opening of the Aboriginal Resource Centre at the Lakes District campus of the College of New Caledonia (CNC).
Henry Reiser, CNC president, travelled to Burns Lake to say a few words during the event.
It was interesting for me to be there because, right before that event, I interviewed Lake Babine Nation councillor Darren Patrick, who says CNC has “burned bridges” with local First Nations.
Of course, not all First Nations in the area support Patrick’s views, as Wet’suwet’en First Nation Chief Vivian Tom and Burns Lake Band Chief Dan George have already expressed their support for CNC.
But while I was at the event, I couldn’t help but wonder if CNC’s efforts are too little, too late.
After all, I was here in Burns Lake when the family programs and the successful hub model of service were cut from our campus despite fierce opposition from community members, educators and elected officials.
The college held consultation meetings where community members clearly expressed their opposition to those cuts, which, by the way, weren’t even related to budget cuts. The cuts had more to do with a restructuring at the college that nobody in town seemed to have agreed with.
At the time, our council was fiercely fighting to reverse those cuts, holding meetings with the Ministry of Advanced Education in an effort to change that unwanted scenario.
Burns Lake’s former Mayor Luke Strimbold has said he felt that not being able to stop CNC from cutting our family programs was one his biggest failures.
Local educators have repeatedly said that those programs contributed to the social and economic well-being of our community and therefore there was no good enough reason to cut them.
So after covering all of those reactions, I am certainly skeptical of any efforts from CNC to re-build relations with our local community.
Yes, having an Aboriginal Resource Centre is a great gesture and I have no doubt it will be positive for the local First Nations community. But do you know what would also be great for the local community? Not cutting programs and services that worked well for the past 25 years, not centralizing decisions in Prince George and actually listening to what local communities have to say.
Lake Babine Nation and Nee Tahi Buhn Band support bringing a campus of the Nicola Valley Institute of Technology (NVIT) to Burns Lake.
Although Burns Lake’s new mayor says he worries the village will end up losing its existing college if an NVIT campus is not established in Burns Lake, council is still on the fence when it comes to the issue of post-secondary education.
Meanwhile, the chiefs of Wet’suwet’en First Nation and the Burns Lake Band have chosen to support Corinne George, the new regional principal of CNC’s Lakes District campus (who I have no doubt is highly competent).
But at this point, does it really matter who is in charge of our campus when the most important decisions are made in Prince George?