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Groundbreaking researcher tackles question of violence among first nations men

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June 4, 2002
Richard Vedan, director of the University of British Columbia’s First Nations House of Learning and winner of this year’s dean’s convocation medal for graduate studies in education, was born 58 years ago to a "Canadian war veteran and residential schools survivor" and "an English war bride."

Growing up in southern Ontario, he thought "college was something that other people’s kids did." But a combination of "serendipity" and the "excellent example" of his parents’ "work ethic" eventually propelled Vedan, a member of the Shuswap First Nation, through three degrees, including a master of social work (MSW) from UBC, and now, a PhD in education from SFU.

Vedan earned his masters while serving as an officer in the Royal Canadian Air Force. In Winnipeg, he worked with service personnel, "helping them handle the issues that often trouble transient families." While volunteering with a local aboriginal organization, he realized his traits and training – he was one of two aboriginals with an MSW in Canada – could uniquely benefit the First Nations community. In 1977, he moved his wife and two children to the interior of BC, where he planned "to build a house on the reserve and solve the problems of the world."

Unsettled by the level of violence he witnessed on the reserve, Vedan quickly moved off. Years later, after serving as advisor to a number of aboriginal groups and establishing himself as a professor of social work at UBC, he examined the roots of that violence in his partly autobiographical doctoral thesis. Despite the assertion by members of his defence committee that Vedan’s "impressive therapeutic information" will "help change relationships between [First Nations] men and care givers in the future," Vedan says "there is no quick fix. But things must change, or there will be another five or six generations of native kids coming into foster care at disproportionately high rates."

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