Crees will soon be able to attend university in an environment that is more culturally adapted to their needs. The Université du Québec en Abitibi-Témiscamingue in Val d’Or announced last week that the much-anticipated First Nations Pavilion has been given the green light.

The federal and provincial governments each contributed $3.8 million toward the $10 million project. A special committee, with former Grand Chief Ted Moses and Val d’Or Mayor Fernand Trahan, raised an additional $ 1.5 million from various businesses.

“It’s been difficult getting the funding, but I think people knew sooner or later that our goal would be achieved,” said Edith Cloutier, Chairperson of the UQAT Board of Directors who also doubles as the Director of the Native Friendship Centre in Val d’Or. “The new challenge is we need $ 1.2 million a year to operate the pavilion. That’s our new goal.”

The project has been in the works for four years. It announced February 16 at a luncheon in Val d’Or that included provincial Indian Affairs Minister Geoff Kelley along with Cree and Algonquin Chiefs.

“We are pleased to announce our support for this historic achievement,”

Kelley told a room of 160 people at the Motel Forestel. “It is something all First Nations can be proud of.”

The $3.8 million guaranteed by Ottawa and matched last year by the province, was announced at last fall’s First Nations Socio-Economic Summit in Mashteuiatsh.

Former Grand Chief Ted Moses and Val d’Or Mayor Fernand Trahan helped to raised $ 1.5 million towards the goal by soliciting businesses in the area.

The province will supply an additional $340,000 for operating costs, but UQAT will have to secure almost $900,000 more to operate the pavilion.

Oscar Kistabish, an Algonquin, is the cultural agent for the Native Friendship Centre in Val d’Or. He opened the luncheon with a prayer and provided a laugh when he told a story of a journalist who once said to him, “Welcome to Val d’Or.” To which he quickly replied with a smile, “We’ve been here for over 6,000 years. I should be the one welcoming you.”

The university is currently offering programs specific to Native people, such as bachelor programs in social work, administration and pre-school and elementary school, but space is so limited that at a certain point last year, a class was held at the local Knights of Columbus hall.

“UQAT’s First Nations Pavilion will be referred to not only as a model of peaceful coexistence but also as a symbol of people working together to bridge the gap between our respective cultures, a gap that is still unfortunately, hued by racism, discrimination and prejudice,” said Cloutier.

Two architects are currently working on unique designs that will be brought to the committee for their approval late in the New Year. Developers are aiming to break ground inthe fall.

UQAT is the first university in Quebec to take the bold step of building a First Nations pavilion to promote Native culture. Their aim is to foster a better relationship between the town of Val d’Or and neighboring Native communities.

“The First Nations pavilion owes its development to the relentless and vigorous efforts of women and men from a diversity of nations, languages and communities,” Cloutier stressed.

Minister of Natural Resources and Wildlife Pierre Corbeil, who is also MNA for the Abitibi region, was on hand to say a few words.

“This is more than just a building, it represents a place of acceptance and coexistence,” he said. “It’s a place to learn about each other and appreciate our differences.”