News / Ottawa

National chief welcomes reports that former U.S. embassy is to become Indigenous Centre

Government reportedly plans to turn building across from Parliament Hill into Indigenous Centre.

The former embassy has sat vacant for almost two decades.

Torstar Files

The former embassy has sat vacant for almost two decades.

The long-dormant building at 100 Wellington St. is set to become an Indigenous Centre, which the National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations said is an important symbol for reconciliation.

Several media reports, including in the Toronto Star on Tuesday, indicated the government has decided to turn the building, which was formerly the U.S. embassy, directly opposite Parliament Hill into an Indigenous Centre.

National Chief Perry Bellegarde said that much work is required to repair the relationship between Indigenous peoples and the rest of Canada but that today’s news represents a step.

“It’s all part of reconciliation. It’s all part of recognition about making the statement that Indigenous people have contributed a lot to Canada,” he said. “This is one piece in the puzzle.”

He said he looks forward to working with Indigenous groups representing the Metis and Inuit on a vision for the building.

“The symbolism that it’s a prime location, right on Wellington Street — it’s a great opportunity for Indigenous people to come together and really map that out,” he said. “It may be a cultural centre, but it could be an embassy. It could be a museum. It could be an Indigenous language centre.”

He said local Indigenous groups definitely ought to have a seat at the table.   

“I want to make sure the Algonquin nation is involved, their elders are involved that there is proper protocol and proper ceremony involved.”

Sen. Doug Black, who pushed the government to turn the building into a national portrait gallery, said he completely understands the government’s decision to go this way.

“As we move forward to build reconciliation with First Nations in Canada, I can see a very strong argument for using that space for that purpose.”

That said, Black argued the government needs to find a place for the country’s portrait collection and he has no intention to give up that fight.

“I’m not the type of guy that let’s momentum stall. I’m a senator from Alberta. We don’t do stall.”

Mayor Jim Watson said his preference would have been the portrait gallery, but he’s glad the building will be put to a public use.

“I think that’s a good idea, but I would have preferred to see a portrait gallery, which I think the building is better designed for.”

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