We sometimes get questions here at X̱wi7x̱wa Library about our building’s architecture. For a brief overview of the Indigenous architectural inspiration for the library, see the “Our Building” tab on our website’s “About” page https://XX̱wi7x̱wa.library.ubc.ca/about/. The story of the design process behind the Longhouse and  X̱wi7x̱wa Library might be of interest to some of you as well.


A brief history

The origins of X̱wi7x̱wa Library’s collection date back to 1970 with the creation of the Indian Education Resources Centre, a forerunner of NITEP (now the Indigenous Teacher Education Program). In 1987, the First Nations House of Learning (FNHL), which included the NITEP resource collection, was established. Under the visionary leadership of Verna Kirkness, FNHL’s major priority was to establish a permanent building on campus, what Kirkness described as “a home of our own.”


Beginning in the fall of 1988, Kirkness began meeting with groups of students, staff and Elders to hear their ideas about a longhouse on campus. When Jack Bell donated $1 million in 1989 to be put towards First Nations initiatives at UBC, the First Nations House of Learning Advisory Committee and the Native Indian Education Advisory Committee unanimously agreed that the money should be put towards the construction of a longhouse. To help spearhead the project, Kirkness established a building committee consisting of Elders, students, faculty and staff; Kirkness has noted the particularly important role that the Elders on this committee played in leading the building project. One of the building committee’s first tasks was to choose an architectural firm, with Larry McFarland Architects ultimately being selected given their previous experience on another longhouse project as well as their willingness to work collaboratively. The architects suggested moving forward with a series of workshops aimed at garnering input from the FNHL community about the placement, function and design of the new buildings.


The site

The building committee and the broader FNHL community considered a range of locations but it was important to organizers that the site be close to the centre of campus. The site that was ultimately chosen was a former arboretum that had been populated with various tree species since the early days of the University. The building committee decided to place the library on the east side of the site closer to the heart of campus and the flow of traffic on West Mall as a purposeful act of reaching out to the broader University. The building committee and architects also made the decision to orient the buildings on an East-West axis in a manner that both minimized damage to the existing trees on site and that resisted the grid orientation of the original campus plan. The two trees that did need to be cut down for construction are now part of the waterfall feature next to X̱wi7x̱wa Library.



In April 1990 the building committee had an important meeting with the Musqueam Band Council. Following a presentation about the new buildings, the Council indicated their support for the project but also requested that the longhouse be built in the Musqueam shed style which the Committee agreed to. The architects and the building committee wanted to pay respect to traditional architectural style and building materials which meant that wood would be a prominent material. At the same time the team also embraced the fact that these would be modern buildings built using contemporary materials and design techniques. They therefore made the decision not to cover up or paint over non-traditional materials such as concrete and aluminum but rather kept them in their natural state as a symbol of the melding of the traditional with the contemporary. Working with the traditional shed design and the more practical program requirements, the architects presented a design for the longhouse building which featured a curved roof. Though the architects had not intended the metaphor when creating the design, Elders on the building committee saw in the curved roof the form of the outstretched wings of an eagle, tipping up at the ends. Copper was also chosen as a prominent roofing material given its traditional value to coastal peoples.


Throughout the design process, architects met regularly with the FNHL community to discuss the look, priorities and function of the buildings. Khot-La-Cha, Squamish Chief Simon Baker, who served as a member of the building committee, emphasized the importance of incorporating water into the design. Baker felt there was strong meaning in following the water towards these places of learning. This design direction can be seen in both the waterfall feature and the stones emanating from it that suggest a dry creek bed.


The library building itself was designed so that it was partially built into the ground as an homage to the Interior Salish earth-sheltered building style of a Kekuli or S7ístken (also known as a pit house in English). Both the tall timber frame of the Kekuli and the large windowed opening into the library space signal the presence of this Indigenous place of learning from the main road.



The longhouse and the library were officially opened on May 25, 1993. At the opening ceremony, Chief Simon Baker gifted the library with its name, X̱wi7x̱wa, which means “echo” in the Squamish language. In 1994 Larry McFarland Architects were recognized with a Governor General Award of Merit for the UBC Longhouse project which includes X̱wi7x̱wa Library. Thanks to the vision and hard work of the building committee as well as the broader FNHL community, X̱wi7x̱wa Library and the Longhouse have had the opportunity to welcome thousands of students, faculty and community members through their doors over the past decades.



If you’re interested in learning more about the history of the Longhouse and X̱wi7x̱wa Library, please see Verna J Kirkness and Jo-Ann Archibald’s book The First Nations Longhouse : our home away from home, available through the UBC catalogue. Thanks also to Diane Archibald whose PhD thesis, Sites of cultural difference: the cultural production of space within a University construct provided some key insights for this blog post. You can access her thesis online for free through UBC Open Collections.

Orange Shirt Day Display

In honour of Orange Shirt Day on September 30, Xwi7xwa Library is highlighting materials in our collection with related themes: the residential school experience, healing journeys of the survivors and their families, and the ongoing process of reconciliation. Our materials on these topics include a range of formats (books, DVDs, government reports, graphic novels, and more), created for diverse audiences, including children, teachers, and scholars, Indigenous community members and non-Indigenous allies. To find these materials at Xwi7xwa, search “Residential schools” on our online catalogue and filter by Location: Xwi7xwa Library, or try searching for subject headings starting with First Nations–Residential schools. Our research guide on the Indian Residential School System in Canada is another excellent resource. As always, you’re welcome to come by Xwi7xwa to browse our shelves, check out our display, or ask us for help!

At Xwi7xwa, we are proud of our growing collection of materials that celebrate the two-spirit, queer, and trans members of our communities. Our collection contains a range of genres and formats (including novels, memoirs, poetry, graphic novels, DVDs, and academic works) centering Indigenous perspectives on gender and sexuality. More and more of this material is being created by (rather than about) Indigenous people who identify as part of the LGBTQ2S community. Our collection features Gwen Benaway, Daniel Heath Justice, Qwo-Li Driskill, Kent Monkman, Thirza Cuthand, Tomson Highway, Sharron Proulx-Turner, Joshua Whitehead, Chrystos, and many more authors, artists, and scholars. Try searching the UBC Library Catalogue using keywords like two-spirit, queer, transgender, bisexual, lesbian, gay, or LGBT, and filtering by Location: Xwi7xwa Library. Or just come into the library to browse the shelves and check out our display!


On April 9, 2018, UBC hosted a ceremony to officially open the Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Centre. At the ceremony, Professor Santa Ono issued a Statement of Apology for UBC’s involvement in the system (see for coverage/responses).


The Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Centre is one of two UBC initiatives that aim to capture the long trajectory of Indigenous and Canadian relations and to ensure that one part of that, the history of Canada’s Indian residential schools, will never be forgotten. The other initiative, Reconciliation Pole, was installed on campus in April 2017.


The centre provides Indian residential school survivors, their families, and communities access to the records gathered by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC). The TRC documented the history and abusive nature of the Indian residential school system that operated in Canada for more than a hundred years.


A second function of the centre is to inform faculty, staff, students, and other visitors, about the history and lasting effects of the Indian residential school system, and to help them to understand larger patterns in history as a context for thinking about contemporary issues and relationships.


Edited by: Karleen Delaurier-Lyle

Culture at the Centre is new exhibition at the Museum of Anthropology that insight into the “important work Indigenous-run cultural centres and museums in British Columbia are doing to honour and support their culture, history and language. Five centres are showcased, representing six communities: Musqueam Cultural Education Centre (Musqueam), Squamish-Lil’wat Cultural Centre (Squamish, Lil’wat), Heiltsuk Cultural Education Centre (Heiltsuk), Nisg̱a’a Museum (Nisg̱a’a) and Haida Gwaii Museum and Haida Heritage Centre at Kay Llnagaay (Haida).” [MOA]

The exhibition is organized around three main themes: land and language, continuity and communities, and repatriation and reconciliation, and runs until October 8th, 2018. To learn more, visit the Museum of Anthropology website here. 




Check out these titles and local performances; explore the creativity of amazing artists, performers, poets, and more!



Aboriginal Music in Contemporary Canada: Echoes and Exchanges edited by Anna Hoefnagels and Beverley Diamond


This collection narrates a story of resistance and renewal, struggle and success, as indigenous musicians in Canada negotiate who they are and who they want to be.

It demonstrates how music is a powerful tool for articulating the social challenges faced by Aboriginal communities and an effective way to affirm indigenous strength and pride.

Find me at UBC Library! 

For upcoming shows and music series in the lower mainland! 






Where the Blood Mixes by Kevin Loring


A story about loss and redemption. Caught in a shadowy pool of alcoholic pain and guilt, Floyd is a man who has lost everyone he holds most dear. Now after more than two decades, his daughter Christine returns home to confront her father. Set during the salmon run, Where the Blood Mixes takes us to the bottom of the river, to the heart of a People.

Find me at UBC Library! 

For upcoming performances written and directed by Kevin Loring!






Children of God: a Musical by Corey Payette 


A powerful musical about an Oji-Cree family whose children were taken away to a residential school in Northern Ontario. The play tells the story of one family: Tommy and Julia, who are trying to survive in the harsh environment of a religious school, and their mother, Rita, who never stops trying to get them back. The impact of this experience on the lives of them all is profound and devastating, yet the story moves toward redemption

Find me at UBC Library!

For upcoming performances written and directed by Cory Payette!





Practical Dreamers: conversations with movie artists by Mike Hoolboom


Welcome to the world of fringe movies. Here, artists have been busy putting queer shoulders to the wheels, or bending light to talk about First Nations rights (and making it funny, to boot), or demonstrating how a personality can be taken apart and put back together, all during a ten-minute movie which might take years to make.

Find me at UBC Library! 

For upcoming films in the lower mainland! 






Indianland by Lesley Belleau


This collection of poems written from a female and Indigenous point of view and incorporate Anishinaabemowin throughout. Time is cyclical, moving from present day back to first contact and forward again. Themes of sexuality, birth, memory, and longing are explored, images of blood, plants (milkweed, yarrow, cattails), and petroglyphs reoccur, and touchstone issues in Indigenous politics are addressed.

Find me at UBC Library! 

For live performances and readings in the lower mainland! 






The People Have Never Stopped Dancing: Native American modern dance histories by Jacqueline Shea Murphy

In this first major study of contemporary Native American dance, Jacqueline Shea Murphy shows how these concert performances are at once diverse and connected by common influences. Illustrating how Native dance enacts cultural connections to land, ancestors, and animals, as well as spiritual and political concerns, Shea Murphy challenges stereotypes and offers new ways of recognizing the agency of bodies on stage.

Find me at UBC Library!

For upcoming dance performances in the lower mainland! 






Xwi7xwa would like to thank Elena Pederson, Publications & Web Services Assistant, from UBC Education Library for her work on designing our digital signage.

Come and work with us!

Applications are now open for the position Head Librarian at Xwi7xwa Library. The Head Librarian is responsible for providing strategic leadership for people, services and operations, including the development of collections, services, and user spaces, and is charged with positioning the Xwi7xwa Library as a vital resource in advancing Indigenous scholarship at the University and beyond.

For more information, visit ow.ly/GwPU30gtCl8

From now until December 3rd we’re trialing two new databases at Xwi7xwa Library: Ancestry Library Edition and Ethnic NewsWatch.

Ancestry library Edition
is a partnership between ancestry.com and ProQuest, and offers a wealth of genealogical resources from the United States and the United Kingdom, alongside record collections from Canada, Europe, Australia and other countries.

You can access Ancestry Library Edition through the UBC Library Index and Database collection, or find a research guide for the databases here. We’d really appreciate your feedback on this resource, which you can give in person or by following this link.

Ethnic NewsWatch
offers coverage of grassroots, community, and independent press publications and is particularly valuable as a source of Indigenous newspapers and newsletters. It is an older database, as you might notice from the terminology and metadata it uses, but is still being updated with new issues of community-led and small press Indigenous publications.

You can access and explore Ethnic NewsWatch through the UBC Library Index and database collection, or visit ProQuest’s research guide for further information. Once again, we welcome and feedback on both the contents and the experience of using the resource, either in person or through the feedback form.

We’re running these trials to see how these resources might fit your needs and the needs of our collection at Xwi7xwa, so please get in touch and let us know what you think.

You probably know that November 11th is Remembrance Day. Xwi7xwa Library will be closed on Monday November 13th to commemorate this and to honour members of the armed forces who died in the line of duty.

November 8th is not a federal holiday and but the date is still important. This is Aboriginal Veterans Day, a date set aside to mark the thousand of Indigenous, Metis and Inuit people who fought and died for this land. Indigenous voices are too easily lost amidst the poppies and parades, yet one Veterans group estimates that 12,000 Indigenous people served in the First and Second World Wars and the Korean War.[1]

We’re proud to hold some of these stories in our collection and to be able to highlight them this week.  Please visit Xwi7xwa Library to discover further titles and find out more.


[1] ‘Indigenous Veterans’. Veteran Affairs Canada. Retrieved from http://www.veterans.gc.ca/eng/remembrance/those-who-served/indigenous-veterans


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