Philanthropist's envision their property as a retreat for First Nations artists

Kim Westad, Times Colonist

Friday, March 30, 2007

Quiet philanthropists Bruce and Marion Cumming gave further details
yesterday of their vision for the million-dollar Oak Bay property they've
donated to a First Nations society.

The 1921 house on almost an acre of prime real estate could be used as a
First Nations artists' retreat, the couple suggested, a use they say should
fit in nicely with their Oak Bay neighbourhood.

The couple made front page news earlier this week when they willed their
home, on almost an acre of lovingly landscaped land tucked into Gonzales
Hill, to a First Nations society.

"It's important to us that the use keep harmony with the neighbours and we
certainly think a retreat should do that," said Marion Cumming. She and her
husband Bruce, who has cancer in his bone marrow, initially thought of
donating the property with its extensive garden to The Land Conservancy. But
a chance conversation with a neighbour, who told them that Gonzales Hill was
traditionally sacred to the Coast Salish, gave them another idea.

"It's their traditional land, yet you don't see native people around Oak Bay
at all," Marion Cumming said. "We thought it would be more logical, helpful
and interesting over the long term for it to be a retreat for the Salish

According to the 2001 census, Oak Bay has 120 First Nations people, the
fewest of any municipality in the region.

The retreat would provide a place for artists and scholars to study and
mentor in a quiet environment. One person would live at the home
permanently, while others could stay for varying periods of time.

The home will be given to the Sacred Land Society, set up with directors to
oversee the project. The home isn't to be bought, sold or traded, and is to
be maintained in a way consistent with indigenous values. It's not to be
used for a commercial purpose and can't be subdivided, something neighbours
feared, given the large lot size.

Single-family residential zoning does allow for some different uses, said
Oak Bay director of building and planning Nigel Beattie. He'd need specific
details on whether the intended retreat use does fit in with the current
zoning, but sees that it could.

Dave Paulson lives next door to the Cummings and said yesterday that he's
happy the Cummings have found a good purpose for their home.

The Cummings said most neighbours, like Paulson, have been supportive as
long as the use fits the zoning and is not disruptive to the quiet Sunny
Lane neighbourhood. One neighbour did have some concerns.

"It's a natural human emotion for people to fear the unknown, to [go on the]
offensive when they're not sure what's going on," said Bruce Cumming, an
81-year-old retired botany professor. "I don't want to sound Pollyannaish,
but our view is that this is a learning experience on both sides."

Taiaiake Alfred, director of UVic's Indigenous Governancy Program, helped
set up the Sacred Land Society with the couple. Alfred, a Mohawk from
Kahnawake, said the retreat could easily have non-native scholars and
artists as well. "There are twin objectives: cultural regeneration, and
education of the non-native public on the history of the land."

In the end, Alfred said, it comes down to individuals to try to heal rifts
governments aren't resolving. "Relationships between people are the only way
to resolve the issues we're facing. This is completely outside of government

And what of the fact that the move is coming from a relatively affluent part
of the community? "It shows there can be selflessness and not selfishness."

C Times Colonist (Victoria) 2007

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