SFU Kamloops Convocation

20 years for SFU Kamloops

October 2, 2008

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By Carol Thorbes

Twenty years to the month after its inception as a barebones operation in a former residential school, SFU Kamloops graduated its 386th student Sept. 26 in its 16th annual convocation ceremony at the Kamloops Indian Band Sk’elep School of Excellence.

The irony of the program’s growth and success, particularly in terms of revitalizing First Nations language learning in a once stifling setting, is not lost on Marianne Ignace. The SFU associate professor of anthropology and First Nations Studies is the academic coordinator at SFU Kamloops and one of its architects.

"We started with 18 students, a few tables and chairs and a blackboard," remembers Ignace. "With little money and a lot of guts, a group of students and First Nations leaders eagerly and passionately set out to transcend the failure and travesty of past First Nations education at the hands of public institutions.

"We were answering a community cry for a mini-university serving students outside of the Lower Mainland yearning for skills in conducting First Nations-related research and credentials such as university certificates, diplomas and degrees."

SFU VP-academic and provost Jonathan Driver represented university chancellor Brandt Louie and registrar Kate Ross presented degrees and certificates at the ceremony, which was also attended by board of governors chair Nancy McKinstry and more than a dozen other university faculty and staff members.

Twenty-six degrees and certificates were awarded to one of SFU Kamloops’ largest ever graduating classes, with 13 of the 22 mostly aboriginal graduates receiving certificates in First Nations language proficiency.

The large number of language credentials "shows that an increasing number of young and not-so-young aboriginal people are learning and relearning their languages and choosing SFU Kamloops as a feasible venue for this," says Ignace.

"Like a strawberry patch sending out new roots, we are working with rural First Nations communities throughout B.C. and the Yukon to help them revitalize their first language, a key component of First Nations people’s cultural and spiritual identity."

Kamloops offers degrees, certificates and diplomas in First Nations studies, archaeology, anthropology, linguistics/First Nations languages and education.
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