Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, TRU’s Cpul’kw’ten, or Gathering Place, remains open and continues to assist the university’s Indigenous student population. While the centre has been forced to move many of its offerings online to keep students and employees safe, it continues to offer a variety of programs and services to incoming and returning Indigenous students.
“It’s unfortunate that the pandemic is causing a lot of changes,” TRU’s Supervisor of Indigenous Student Development Vernie Clement said, “But we’re hopeful that we’ll find creative ways to get through this.”
The Elder in the House program, which allows Indigenous students to meet with older Indigenous people for guidance and consultation, is now operating remotely. Students wishing to book an appointment with an elder can now do so online.
Weekly soup circles held in-person every Wednesday before the COVID-19 pandemic are also continuing virtually every Wednesday at 11:30 a.m.
Students are now only allowed to enter the Gathering Place to access the computer lab, which is open weekdays from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Only six students are allowed to use the computers at a time, and COVID-19 safety protocols such as regular sanitation and social distancing are in effect.
Despite the changes, the centre’s programs remain quite popular among TRU’s Indigenous student body. The soup circles, in particular, remain well-attended, “We get anywhere from 15 to 20 people that join live every week, and we post the streams afterwards as well, and they get about 200 views.”
Unfortunately, not all of the centre’s initiatives have survived the transition. Indigenous TRU has had to shut down food-related programs like the First Friends Feast and its healthy snack program. Instead, Clement and his team have started giving out food vouchers to TRU’s Scratch Cafe through the weekly soup circles.
They are continuing to look for creative ways to provide food security to the students who may need it.
More than anything, Clement misses the opportunity to connect with students face to face
“I really like the energy that students bring. For a lot of students, it’s a new adventure. Students come here to better their lives and their families’ lives. Being able to walk that journey with students is a real important aspect of what we do,” Clement said.
Despite the lack of in-person contact, he remains optimistic that The Gathering Place can make a positive difference
“I really hope we’re still able to engage students enough for them to have a good experience,” Clement said.
Appointments with Indigenous Student Development or with elders can be scheduled by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.