The road so far: Overview of VIU’s reconciliation efforts

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Above: Three totem poles stand tall outside Shq’apthut, VIU’s Aboriginal Gathering Place. Photo via viu.ca.

By News Editor Aislinn Cottell

Built on the traditional land of the Snuneymuxw First Nations band, VIU’s relationship with the Aboriginal people of Vancouver Island has always been a core value. However, since the Truth and Reconciliation Committee’s report in 2015, the University has acknowledged the vast amount of work that still needs to be done to help heal and rebuild.

The Reconciliation Road: Join the Journey with VIU series has been VIU’s answer to the call for action. There have been many events, workshops, and presentations on the Road so far, and many still to come in the New Year.

Beginning September 13 and continuing until April 11, 2017, an ongoing “Lunch & Learn” series of talks is being held one Tuesday a month at Shq’apthut, the Aboriginal Gathering Place at VIU. They will provide soup, bannock, and the opportunity to expand experience and awareness in current Indigenous topics and Aboriginal ways of Being and Knowing.

October 4 marked the arrival of the Witness Blanket, an installation by artist and master carver Carey Newman. The Blanket, crafted from hundreds of items salvaged from Residential Schools across the country, had an impressive turnout at its reception, and has continued to draw groups and individuals over its two-month stay at VIU’s Gallery. Accompanying the piece, a workshop called the Blanket Exercise, led by VIU’s Elders-in-Residence, was held which lead participants through the history of colonization and resistance.

On October 12, a third totem pole was raised at Shq’apthut. The totem represents a coastal First Nations language, Kwakwaka’wakw, and stands between two others which represent the two other Vancouver Island languages, Coast Salish and Nuu-chath-nulth.

On October 14, a Coast Salish Protocol Session was held, facilitated by Snuneymuxw and VIU Elders Geraldine Manson and Gary Mansion. The session provided a basis for understanding the importance of recognizing the relationship with Native peoples, and respecting the traditional territories we inhabit.

On October 21, Laura Cranmer from VIU’s First Nations Studies Department presented a talk titled Kwak’wala Language Revitalization: Is it Possible? during the Arts & Humanities Colloquium Series. Her research focuses on the challenges of an adult heritage language learner in reclaiming their language.

Another ongoing event, the Indigenous Book Circle, is being held for those interested in discussing current prominent themes in Indigenous fiction. Two Circles have already been held on October 24 and November 14, and there will be two more next semester on January 16 and February 13. The book list can be found under the event page at eventbrite.ca.

On November 4, Assistant Professor in the Department of Visual Arts at the University of the Fraser Valley, Dr. Geoffrey Carr, presented his talk The Chain Between Barbarism and Civilization: Colonial Modernities and the Architecture of Residential Schools. He addressed how the design of the residential schools served as a critical instrument in the efforts of churches and the government to erase and remake Indigenous culture.

On November 20, VIU sponsored a rare solo performance at the Port Theatre by acclaimed singer-songwriter, musician, educator, activist, and humanitarian Buffy Sainte-Marie. The show was “fantastic and inspiring,” said one student that attended. “Being able to watch a part of music history, indigenous history, and Canadian history and engage with it was incredible,” he said. Saint-Marie received a standing ovation and preformed an encore.

On the 21, a Special Meeting of Convocation was held at the VIU Malaspina Theatre to award Sainte-Marie an honorary doctorate of laws, her 13th honorary doctorate to date. Honorary doctorates are awarded to individuals who exhibit a record of outstanding distinction and achievement in an area related to VIU’s mission, and the Doctor of Laws is awarded for accomplishments and contributions in areas such as politics, justice, and social activism.

On November 22, an inaugural advisory council meeting was held between Douglas White, Director of VIU’s Centre for Pre-Confederation Treaties and Reconciliation, and the Centre’s Advisory Council to discuss various current pre-confederation treaties and reconciliation issues happening across Canada, and the Centre’s mandate concerning them.

A talk was also given on November 22 by Dr. Tracey Lindberg for the second annual Indigenous Speakers Series, part of a partnership with the Laurier Institution and CBC Radio One’s Ideas. Lindberg is an accomplished Cree academic and writer who explored the complex nature of reconciliation in her talk (W)rec(k)-oncoliation: Indigenous Lands and People’s Respect, Reciprocity, and Relationships.

On November 26, the Testify showing was held, which displayed art created by pairing artists and legal thinkers to collaborate on multi-media and written work that reflects the concepts of Indigenous law. The show will be on display in the Malaspina Theatre until December 9.

In the New Year, the Road continues. The Indigenous Portfolio Development will be a series of workshops focused on helping participants build a collection of life experiences to support their personal, career, and educational goals. A five-part series titled Conversations Toward Reconciliation and Healing will provide the opportunity for individuals to explore individual and collective responsibilities in the path to reconciliation. A two-day workshop called Land-Based Traditional Teaching will draw upon the knowledge of VIU’s Elders-in-Residence, and explore the practices, protocols, and relationships between First Nations culture and the land we live with. A series of sessions called Indigenous Leaders on Learning, an initiative of Su’luquw’a, the Aboriginal Community Cousins, will invite different Indigenous leaders to speak at Shq’apthut on their life experiences, and balancing their education and professional lives with traditional teachings.

There will also be a new course offered, date and time to be announced, titled Learning to Be Together: Indigenous Knowledge and the Academy, which will expose students to Indigenous ways of knowing and developing shared understandings between cultures.


Aislinn is a third year Bachelor of Arts and Science student majoring in creative writing and minoring in chemistry. New to The Nav team this year, she’s enjoying finding out about all the interesting things happening on campus. Her hobbies include reading, drawing, Netflix, and the copious consumption of coffee.