First Nations elder Kevin Fugita remembers a time when his culture was discouraged by the government.
“It started in residential schools,” he said. “That’s where we lost our culture.”
Now, a new community centre in Scarborough aims to counter that legacy.
Officially opened on Oct. 11, the Scarborough Family Life Centre on Galloway Road and Kingston Road is a hub for First Nations activity.
“We do cultural activities, we do hand-drumming, we learn our songs, we do traditional craft-making and we make medicine pouches to carry our medicine,” said Kelly Khashemi, the centre’s youth engagement worker.
On any given Tuesday during culture night, the sounds of drums and singing can be heard in the basement of the new centre. On the first Tuesday of each month, a women’s ceremony led by an elder.
“This is what we used to do,” Fugita said during a community dinner at the centre on Oct. 11. “We used to get together, have a meal and talk about things — work it out as a community.
“That’s what we really lost. I think most cultures have lost that.”
Previously called House of Ghesig (Sunshine) and operating out of a small brick house on the same corner, the centre changed its name after adding the new building.
The purpose of the gatherings is to educate First Nations people and other curious individuals of cultural traditions.
“Basically, we’re learning from our elders and what we learn, we carry down to our children,” said Krista McQuabbie, a volunteer at the centre.
McQuabbie teaches traditional native craft making at the Scarborough Family Life Centre.
“My mom taught me when I was 11 or 12 years old,” she said. “She only taught me the basics. The other stuff I had to come up on my own.”
Like many others of First Nations descent, McQuabbie was not brought up knowing the traditions of her culture, she said.
McQuabbie’s mother was put in a residential school at a young age, which focused on assimilating children to official Canadian culture.
“When she got put into one of [the residential schools], she got disciplined for speaking her own language,” she said.
According to Origins Canada, during the “’60s scoop” from the 1960s to 1990, as many as 11,132 native children were removed from their homes, adopted out and raised in Anglo-Saxon homes. Since settling in Canada in the 1600s, the French and British have assimilated native people to their own customs.
The centre’s new building on Galloway Road is significant because it is the first specifically built for First Nations peoples, Fugita said.
The two-storey building features rooms for a daycare, a youth program and a college program, as well as a meeting room/kitchen to be shared by all. The building received $845,180 in funding from the federal government and cost $3,990,360 to build.