A groundbreaking ceremony was recently held at Natoaganeg First Nation to symbolize a new women’s shelter that will serve 15 indigenous communities. The 11,000 square feet center will provide one streamlined space for programming, counseling rooms, a nurse examination room, housing for women and families and administrative spaces. The center is part of an $85 million investment from two federal government departments to support the First Nation people. To the First Nation people, the word Nignen means ‘our home’ and EXP’s designers and architects were committed to integrating the essence of the word into the design for Natoaganeg First Nation women.
EXP provided a full scope of services including civil, structural, electrical, mechanical and architectural. EXP’s involvement in the Nignen Women’s Shelter arose from a previous job, where team members provided technical reports for the same client. Through continued service and showing up to meet client needs, the relationship developed into a large-scale contract for the shelter. The project started in the summer of 2021, and the team adjusted to developments in project scope and sizing and designed the space for expansion and growth in the future.
The site of the new women’s shelter is in the heart of the Natoaganeg First Nation community. With an approximate population of 900 members and 600 on-reserve residents, the design required First Nation cultural adaptations as well as broader considerations including privacy for building users, as the site is amidst many other community buildings. To best position the building to provide accessibility, confidentiality and an environment for women to feel safe and secure, the team worked to use the existing and surrounding tree coverage. The team also prioritized the communities’ connection to nature and harmony for the site and positioned the building in a way that respects the existing landscape. “Harmony and oneness with nature is very important to the First Nation people, so we took careful steps to make sure we were listening and being mindful of the cultural aspects of the community. We know that nature can be very healing, so we stuck by that ideology when thinking through different pieces of the design,” said Architect Melissa Wakefield.
The partnership with Natoaganeg First Nation offered designers the knowledge to consider all of the unique needs and uses of the space. The center will incorporate a cultural space where large group meetings and gatherings can take place, and the HVAC system was carefully designed to accommodate for the centers smudging ceremonies, in which fire and smoke will be used within the space. The design and placement of the center recognizes the importance of the medicine wheel within the Indigenous culture for health and healing – emphasizing each cardinal direction and its corresponding symbolic meaning. “We designed the entrance and exit of the shelter to align with the symbolism of the medicine wheel. East represents the dawn of the new day, and the east-facing entrance represents a new beginning for women escaping domestic violence and entering into a space where they can start a new future in a safe and welcoming place,” said Melissa.
The project is expected to be completed Fall 2023. EXP is proud to work on projects with First Nation communities. Learn more about our work by contacting Architect Melissa Wakefield.