Marguerit James, 71, leans back against the red couch cushions in Salish Lelum’s common room, eyes crinkling at the corners.
Of all the places she’s been, this one is the best, she says.
The housing is one of four built in Nanaimo as part of a partnership between the City of Nanaimo and the B.C. government and is run by Tillicum Lelum Friendship Centre for elders and youth.
It’s affordable for the former Penelekut resident, safe and Tillicum Lelum’s vision to have young people and elders help each other “just like in our culture,” works, she said.
James offers young people her leftovers and advice when they need it, and they’ve helped her figure out how to use computers.
“Never touched a computer in my life and all of a sudden I’m learning. That’s the awesome part of us being together. We teach each other. We help each other out,” said James, who wants people to know about Tillicum Lelum and its executive director’s vision to help people of all origins, as the organization celebrates its 50th milestone this month.
This year Tillicum Lelum celebrates five decades in the city, where it’s gone from being a coffee drop-in center and sport-programming provider to the host of 58 programs, including on its Tenth Street property where it has Salish Lelum supportive housing, a youth safe house and a young mother’s program.
The organization began in 1965 when citizens were concerned First Nations people living off reserve weren’t getting culture or acceptance and had nothing to do. A coffee drop in centre was started for people to come in and talk to elders and others. It also had recreation and sport programs. By 1968, the organization was incorporated and it opened its doors to all people no matter their ancestry.
The centre offers a mind, body and spirit approach and helps Native people who’d prefer to go to an aboriginal program where they feel safe, accepted and know they don’t have to address racial issues, said Grace Elliott-Nielsen, executive director of Tillicum Lelum.
It’s great to celebrate 50 years, she said, adding she’s been there for 43 of them.
“I’ve seen so many young aboriginal people move ahead and be in really good positions and although there’s still a lot of work to do, I see a lot of healthier families,” she said.
No public events are planned to celebrate the milestone, but the organization will hold an invite-only tour and barbeque later this month.