Last week I had the chance to speak directly with Ken Tourand, President of the Nicola Valley Institute of Technology (NVIT).
If you’ve been reading our newspaper lately, you’re probably aware that a local group of volunteers called rural post-secondary education committee (RPEC) has been working to establish an NVIT campus in Burns Lake. If RPEC’s plan is successful, the new campus would replace the Lakes District campus of the College of New Caledonia.
When you listen to RPEC members speak, it’s easy to get the impression that NVIT is very interested in working with Burns Lake. Although that is still true to some extent, it’s definitely not as factual as it was last year.
Last year RPEC had the support of all six local First Nations communities. In addition, former mayor Luke Strimbold was actively working to establish an NVIT campus in Burns Lake. But since then, the newly formed council has been on the fence about this proposal, and two First Nations groups – Wet’suwet’en First Nation and Burns Lake Band – have rescinded their support.
Although NVIT has not ruled out the possibility of establishing a campus in Burns Lake, they are clearly not as excited as they were last year. Tourand explained that the college won’t go where they are not wanted. In addition, they would not want to create division in the community.
Furthermore, Burns Lake is just one of the possibilities for NVIT. The college is actually interested in setting up a campus anywhere up north, not necessarily in Burns Lake, and so I doubt it would make much of a difference for NVIT if a campus is established here or in Prince Rupert.
Burns Lake council has recently invited Tourand to make a presentation to them about NVIT’s intentions. Tourand politely declined their request. In a letter, he explained that without the support from local First Nations communities and support from the Ministry of Advanced Education, it would be pointless to have any further discussions.
I specifically asked him what would happen if NVIT had the support from the Ministry of Advanced Education, but only the support of four out of six First Nations groups in Burns Lake. He said NVIT would cross that bridge when it comes to it, and engage with the community then. But he was clear that the excitement about coming to Burns Lake was a lot different last year when NVIT seemed to have the community’s full support.
What became clear to me after our conversation is that Burns Lake is not NVIT’s only option, nor their priority. And why should it be? In the end, we are the ones who are going to have to live with or without a thriving college in Burns Lake.
What also became clear to me is that we might have missed an opportunity.