Plans take shape for a place of healing and resilience

A Coast Salish Longhouse will be in Sehome Arboretum
Window magazine staff

Western is building a Coast Salish-style longhouse on campus that will serve as an important cultural center for Indigenous students and a gathering space for the community.

The State Legislature gave Western $4.5 million in the 2021-23 capital budget to design and build the longhouse, which will reflect traditional Coast Salish architecture and design and will be located in Sehome Arboretum in partnership with the city of Bellingham.

Traditionally, longhouses were the homes for Coast Salish families, says Laural Ballew, Western’s executive director of American Indian/Alaska Native and First Nations Relations & Tribal Liaison to the president. This longhouse will provide a significant gathering space for Western’s Indigenous students, and our community at large, with a focus on resilience, wellness and healing.

The building will feature a gathering hall, indoor and outdoor kitchens and a student lounge, and will also be a resource for area tribes and other community groups, Ballew says. Regional tribal elders to will be included on an advisory committee to help design and plan for the building, she added.

WWU students have long called for Western to build a longhouse—they’re common on other campuses in Western Washington. In 2016 the Native American Student Union included a longhouse in their list of demands to then-President Bruce Shepard to make Western a more inclusive, supportive place for Indigenous students.

Then the Associated Students of WWU listed funding for the longhouse as a top priority for the 2021 legislative session, and the project received official backing from the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians. In the State Legislature, the project was championed by Washington State Rep. Debra Lekanoff, whose 40th district includes WWU’s Bellingham campus.

While the State Legislature funded the vast majority of the project, the longhouse will be a public-private partnership: Western will work with private donors to raise at least $500,000 to complete the building.

Architectural rendering by Jones and Jones