Whatever becomes of a century-old home near Walbran Park, Ron Rice is determined the phrase “Cumming and going” will be etched artfully on the threshold.
In Marion Cumming’s will, she leaves the land on Sunny Lane to the Victoria Native Friendship Centre, where Rice, hereditary name Wush’q, is executive director.
Cumming, a well-known Oak Bay artist among other things, is also adamant to not have anything named for her. It’s a promise Rice intends to keep – thus the artwork.
Theirs is a years-long relationship with respect flowing both ways.
In the spirit of reconciliation, Cumming calls her little piece of Oak Bay Chikawich Sacred Land, a sign of respect for old burial sites on nearby Gonzales Hill. Chikawich is the revived Indigenous name for McNeill Bay, and the name of the village once nestled around the bay.
|Marion Cumming at home. (Christine van Reeuwk/News Staff)|
Rice admits there are challenges to utilizing the large home in a fairly urban setting.
Early thoughts include using it for an artist-in-residence or writer-in-residence, a retreat, or a meeting space for mothers.
“We want to be respectful of the neighbourhood,” Rice said. Still, they’ll test the boundaries, and push to fulfil needs in their community.
The organization with 135 staff hosts more than 20 programs on a regular basis through 10 departments. VNFC programs run the gamut from medical to educational and development programs. The Victoria-based centre even boasts a lending library, containing 7,000 titles with 80 per cent of it Indigenous content.
“We really have to look at the power of the space,” Rice explained.
The VNFC already has 15 units of housing, including three apartment buildings and two houses, one a Cowichan Valley cabin donated by Cumming two years ago. An elder currently lives there.
She and her husband Bruce, discovering they were on unceded territory, donated their New Brunswick farm to the Maliseet in 1992.
The perhaps more powerful potential is that Cumming inspires others to do something similar, Rice said, noting that many nations qualify.
“In our culture, wealth was never determined by what you had, but by what you give to the community,” Rice said.
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