Carcross Tagish First Nation unveils new learning centre

'I'm feeling very, very happy and honoured that we’ve been able to do this, and open this building to the public,' said Chief Andy Carvill.

'I'm feeling very, very happy and honoured that we've been able to do this,' said Chief Andy Carvill

A crowd gathered on Tuesday for the grand opening of the new facility in Carcross, and to watch the totem pole being raised in front of the building. (Mike Rudyk/CBC)

Yukon's Carcross Tagish First Nation is celebrating National Aboriginal Day, and also celebrating a brand new addition to the community — a big, state-of-the-art learning centre and cultural building.

The three-day grand opening of the building wraps up Wednesday. 

"I'm feeling very, very happy and honoured that we've been able to do this, and open this building to the public," said Chief Andy Carvill on Tuesday, as a large totem pole was raised in front of the building. The pole was made by renowned master carver Keith Wolfe Smarch and Aaron Smarch. 

Chief Andy Carvill said his First Nation has long needed such a building, for potlatches, funerals, and other community events. (Mike Rudyk/CBC)

Carvill says the new building has been a long time coming — the First Nation has badly needed such a facility to host all sorts of community events. 

"For far too long, ever since I can remember, any funerals or potlatches or other services or community gatherings were always held in the school," he said.

The new facility is not small. The main hall can seat 500 people.

There are also three board rooms, an elders lounge, a large kitchen, and two "green rooms" for performers. By next year, it's expected to also have a youth and elders wing, and a space for archives.

It was purposely built to look out over Nares Lake, Carvill said, because "our people have used the water for generations — we've travelled by water, we've always camped by the water."

"Just being part of our traditions, we put it by the water."

Hi-tech and energy efficient

Nelson Lepine, CEO of the Carcross Tagish Management Corporation, helped launch the project a few years ago. He says it grew out of an initiative that saw a handful of First Nations youth learn skills by building tiny houses.

Local carvers Keith Wolfe Smarch and his son Aaron Smarch spent 14 months making the totem pole that now stands in front of the building. (Mike Rudyk/CBC)

"The main focus was about building life skills," said Lepine. "The life skills tools that we provided, we wanted to entrench those by continually working with them, so the timing was almost perfect."

Lepine says the building was designed to be energy efficient, and has a lot of high-tech audio and video technology built in.

"There's a lot of learning, in terms of this technology that the First Nation is trying to figure out. So it's exciting," he said.

"I think Kwanlin Dün [First Nation] went through the growing pains of their facility, we're going to be going through growing pains of this facility as well."

The new facility is already in demand — Lepine says two weddings are already booked for this summer.

The building's main hall can seat 500 people, and has large windows for a scenic view of the area. (Mike Rudyk/CBC)

With files from Mike Rudyk