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WWU hosts Ceremony for Bellingham’s first contemporary style longhouse

Construction on Western’s campus is set to complete in summer 2025

Groundbreaking ceremony on April 11, 2024, at the site of Western’s new longhouse in Bellingham, Wash. Western Indigenous alums, staff and Coast Salish peoples break the ground to commence construction. // Photo courtesy Luke Hollister

More than 200 people watch the children in the Lummi Nation Blackhawk Dancers move over the wet ground on April 11 as part of a groundbreaking ceremony for Western Washington University’s soon-to-be House of Healing longhouse.

Past members of the Native American Student Union wrote a letter to Western with requests to make the university a safe space for Indigenous students. One of them is a longhouse on campus, which will be called The House of Healing, and act as a healing space for Indigenous students. 

The longhouse is set to begin construction this spring on the south end of the Sehome Arboretum. Another one of their requests was for Western to hire a tribal liaison. That position was filled by Laural Ballew in 2019.

The rain at the event was one of Ballew’s favorite moments of the groundbreaking ceremony. 

“[The rain] was like the ancestors crying happy tears, blessing the land,” Ballew said.

The House of Healing is Bellingham’s first contemporary-style longhouse, according to Ballew. The shape of the building is called a “canoe,” symbolizing raised hands, a practice in Coast Salish culture to show appreciation.


The longhouse will be maintained by Western but it is open to all indigenous communities in the Whatcom area, Ballew said.

The project costs $5 million and $4.5 million of that money came from the Washington State Legislature budget.

The longhouse will hold the tribal liaison’s office, a gathering space for events, such as the Spring Powwow put on by the Native American Student Union, and an outdoor kitchen, Ballew said. There also will be a fire pit and a community garden featuring native medicinal plants. 

During the ceremony, Western President Sabah Randhawa publicly apologized for the past racist teachings of Western Washington University’s professors.

“I'm just thankful that [Randhawa] was willing to do that,” Ballew said. “I raised my hands up to him and the rest of the Western community.” 

Indigenous alums, Western staff and Lummi children broke the ground. Construction is set to finish summer 2025

“I feel like I'm at the right place and the right time for this to be happening,” Ballew said.

Mars Wetzbarger

Mars Wetzbarger (they/them) is a campus life reporter for The Front. They are in their third year at Western, majoring in Environmental Journalism. In their free time you can find them climbing rocks and playing with their cat. You can contact them at

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