The First Nations House of Learning (FNHL) was established in 1987 as a unit within the President’s office with a mandate to make the University’s resources more accessible to Aboriginal peoples, and improve the University’s ability to meet the needs of First Nations, Métis, and Inuit communities and students. Originally housed in a now demolished wartime hut on Biological Sciences Road, in 1993 the House of Learning moved into the new UBC First Nations Longhouse.
The Longhouse and Xwi7xwa Library were officially opened on May 25th, 1993 to an audience of over 1000 guests. It was the result of nearly five years of dedicated work by students, elders, faculty, staff, and community, who shared a vision to create a home away from home for First Nations, Metis, and Inuit students. The Longhouse reflects the architectural traditions of the Northwest Coast, and at the request of Musqueam Chief and Council, is modeled after the traditional Musqueam-style shed. Xwi7xwa Library is built in the style of a traditional Interior Salish pit house.
Over the past 20 years, the Longhouse has hosted countless feasts, ceremonies, celebrations, conferences, and other gatherings. Hundreds of First Nations, Métis, and Inuit graduates have entered Sty-Wet-Tan through the ceremonial door to be honoured by the Longhouse community, their friends, and family.
Since its opening, the Longhouse has served as a centre for the many programs and services that have been developed for Aboriginal students at the University. While these have changed over the years to respond to the shifting needs of students, they have always been guided by the teachings of our late Elder Tsimilano (Vince Stogan): respect, relationships, responsibility and reverence.
On April 19, 2013, university leaders, faculty, staff, students, and other guests came together to celebrate this history and to recognize the Directors, staff, faculty, students, community members and artists who have made lasting contributions over the past 25 years. Those who have passed were honoured through song by Victor and Kweyacan Guerin of Musqueam. Sty-Wet-Tan Hall was brought alive by cultural performances from Coastal Wolf Pack, the Git Hayetsk Dancers, and Métis Dancers. After a salmon dinner, guests joined hands for a round dance.
This film, which was screened at the event, explores the history and legacy of the First Nations House of Learning, the Longhouse and the Xwi7xwa library. It explores the establishment of the Longhouse and how it has served as a centre for First Nations programs, services, students, and Aboriginal communities from around the world. In the film, we hear from each of the Directors of the First Nations House of Learning and the founding Head Librarian of Xwi7xwa Library. They speak to the Longhouse’s origins, its spirituality, and its importance to the success of Aboriginal students at UBC.