Consignment shop

First Aboriginal community hub opens in Pembroke, Ontario.

The grand opening of Pembroke’s first Aboriginal community hub took place on Saturday.

Located inside the Pembroke Mall and open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., it is described as a safe space where Indigenous people can come together to connect and reconnect with their culture.

“They wanted a safe space where they could congregate, where they could connect with their language, their culture, and also reconnect with the land,” said Joanne Haskin, former president of the Circle of Turtle Lodge.

The Hub is free to all Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. While being a community gathering space, it also functions as an Indigenous consignment shop, internet cafe, and offers mental health and addictions services and trauma therapy.

“We’ve been to schools and done education that way, but this is the first time we’ve had our own space to do our own programming,” said Megan Pilon, director of the new hub.

The crossroads is a site of comfort for local Aboriginal residents. Duane Gastant Aucoin is a member of the Teslin Tlingit First Nation in the Yukon and has only been living in Pembroke for a short time.

“For us to come and be able to be with other Indigenous people is like a new home here for me and I’m so happy,” he told CTV News Ottawa.

“It can be quite lonely being away from home, and so the Algonquins have been so amazing to me and others who aren’t from here, they make us feel like home.”

Haskin says between 8,000 and 10,000 Aboriginal people live in the Renfrew County area, adding that a public space such as the new hub was long overdue.

“The only thing missing was a permanent spot because we tend to forget that the majority of Indigenous people live off reserve,” said Pembroke Mayor Mike LeMay.

The hub is located immediately inside the entrance to the Pembroke Mall. The area with heavy foot traffic is expected to spark new interest in the space.

“This location right at an entrance and with an entrance next to the parking lot provided a good opportunity for our customers to come in and see what’s going on,” said mall manager Jayne Brophy.

Haskin also hopes the available hub will spark interest among non-Indigenous community members to unite groups of people who may not have had the opportunity in the past.

“We really hope that genuine relationships will develop between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples,” she says. “And the real meaning between this truth and reconciliation.”