The non-profit formerly known as the Nanaimo Aboriginal Centre has rebranded and wants to distance itself from past leadership.
Claire Clark and Alexis Petersen, president and board director, respectively, of the new Island Urban Indigenous Wellness Society, say they were caught off-guard when Chris Beaton, former NAC executive director, was charged with and subsequently pleading guilty to child-luring. He has not been employed by the organization since March 2021 and the new society’s leadership said change was necessary.
“We needed a reset because the situation had left such a terrible taste in everyone’s mouth … We needed to [absolve] ourselves of anything that was connected with that particular organization and then start again, so that’s why we did it,” said Petersen.
Nisaika Kum’tuks (Grade K-7) and Tsawalk (Grade 8-12) learning centres are no longer operating and energy will now be focused on “healing, housing and child care,” according to Clark.
“What we were was more educational and we were not able to license our education, so what we did was we withdrew from that,” Petersen said. “We’re putting our efforts into [Nuutsumuut Lelum Housing]. We have Munu supportive childcare for kids with special needs that need to have one-on-one support … then we have the aboriginal supported childcare program, which supports Indigenous kids with special needs and child care on a one-to-one program.”
Nanaimo Aboriginal Centre announced purchase of Strong Nations Publishing in 2020 and Clark and Petersen said it will be business as usual at the publishing house.
“They’re doing very, very well, in fact, they need more space for the books and this hasn’t had any effect on that because there was no real overlap in management,” said Petersen.
Clark said one of her goals as president of the centre is to see more First Nations representation as part of the new society.
“We have to have more Indigenous people on the board to work with the community for sure,” said Clark. “Because if they don’t see anybody like us out there, then they’re not so willing to come and join us, but whoever’s coming on board has to be qualified.”
Coun. Bill Yoachim, acting Snuneymuxw First Nation chief, said if the Indigenous wellness society seeks it, Snuneymuxw is “here for a relationship,” he said, but no request has been made thus far.
“With NAC, we’ve never had the courtesy or respect, as the nation whose territory they’re in, to come and sit and meet with us, from what I recall,” said Yoachim. “With this new entity coming forward, I would expect they’d request a meeting so we can see their mandate, what their priorities are, in working and residing in our territory.”
It will take time before the society is ready to reach out to area First Nations, according to the society’s president.
“We’re thinking about it, but when you have a small community, in a nation like this, when they hear how badly this person operated, they really don’t want to reach out,” said Clark.
“Because the Indigenous community is a small, inter-woven community … I think we’re being watched to see how we move forward with what we are doing, that we do it properly, and respectfully and successfully,” said Petersen. “If we can get that done, and accomplish those programs, then I think we’ll have more of a base to build on.”
Past plans to build an Indigenous cultural centre at Beban Park are on hold, but a plan to build an independent urban Indigenous school is still on the table, according to Petersen. The society still has money from a GoFundMe independent school campaign and going forward, it plans to go through the process again, hopefully with more success in securing the necessary licences, Petersen said.
An annual general meeting is being planned for the fall, with invitations to area First Nations, and a date to be announced in the future.
The organization officially changed its name Feb. 2.