Walking Together on the Path of Reconciliation at SFU Surrey

July 13, 2024

As we celebrate National Indigenous Peoples Month, I reflect on my recent experience at the Indigenous Student Centre’s Honouring Feast that celebrates our graduating Indigenous students. There were more than 200 Indigenous graduates, 85 of whom were able to attend. 

To see the smiles of success on their faces and those of their parents, sisters, brothers, aunties and uncles was inspiring to say the least. To say the most, it is clear that SFU is on the right path of reconciliation, and I recognize there is much more work to do.

As I volunteer greeter, I was touched to be blanketed in ceremony with Chris Lewis and Jessica La Rochelle. Every time I attend an Indigenous ceremony, I am deeply touched and today was extra special for me: that they took the time on a very busy day to honour me and the other volunteers was such an amazing gift that I will not soon forget. 

As a SFU's What's Next strategy priority, Upholding Truth and Reconciliation is also deeply personal to me, knowing it’s shaping a more inclusive and equitable future for our campus community and the First Nations communities south of the Fraser River. As we reach for deep and meaningful reconciliation at the Surrey campus, supporting our Indigenous faculty, staff, and students will be critical as will and our relationship and engagement with First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples. 

As we travel the path of reconciliation there have been some modest signposts of progress. At SFU's Surrey campus, we recognize the journey toward reconciliation begins with listening, learning from, involving, and walking in solidarity with the land based nations on whose traditional and unceded lands the SFU Surrrey campus is located —the qʼʷa:n̓ƛʼən̓ (Kwantlen), q̓íc̓əy̓ (Katzie), Səmyámə (Semiahmoo), kʷikʷəƛ̓əm (Kwikwetlem), qiqéyt (Qayqayt), and sc̓əwaθən (Tsawwassen) First Nations. I also recognize the importance of connecting with the Métis and Inuit peoples who call Surrey their home. Finally, given that Surrey is now home to the highest proportion of urban Indigenous people in BC, it is very important we continue to work with the Surrey Urban Indigenous Leadership Committee (SUILC)

In March, we unveiled two large-scale artworks to acknowledge, honor, and respect the unceded traditional territories of the south of the Fraser First Nations where SFU’s Surrey campus is located. These artworks are not mere static displays; they are dynamic platforms for learning, inviting audiences to deepen their understanding of Indigenous peoples' traditions and their profound relationship with the land. And for me personally these art pieces serve as a daily reminder, a spotlight on me if you will, that I must show up in support of reconciliation at SFU Surrey every day.

The permanent artworks, produced by artists Phyllis Atkins and her son Noah (Kwantlen First Nation), and Rain Pierre (Katzie First Nation), are designed to create welcoming spaces for SFU’s Indigenous faculty, staff, students and alumni, Surrey’s growing urban Indigenous communities, and all visitors to the campus. Two additional works, created by Roxanne Charles, Leslie Wells and Easton Arnouse (Semiahmoo First Nation), will be installed later this year.  

In May, we observed Red Dress Day at SFU Surrey to honor the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls, and Two-Spirit Peoples. This day is to remember the people who have lost their lives to colonial, gender-based violence, and their families and communities that live daily with the grief of losing loved ones.  I’d like to thank our Facilities Services and the various on-campus departments that set up red dress displays to help raise awareness to the ongoing struggles faced by Indigenous communities and the critical need for continued action.

Recently, the Surrey campus also hosted SFU’s Moose Hide Campaign Day event. What began as a BC-born Indigenous-led movement to end violence towards women and children has now become a Canada-wide initiative to show our collective commitment to ending gender-based violence.

Chief Harley Chappell (Semiahmoo First Nation) opened and closed the event, President Joy Johnson and Chris Lewis (SFU Indigenous Executive Lead) spoke about SFU’s commitment to reconciliation and ending gender-based violence, and Belinda Karsen (Sexual Violence Support & Prevention Office) and Jessica La Rochelle (Indigenous Student Centre (ISC)) shared the supports and services SFU offers to students at our campuses. SFU is proud to be an ambassador university of this initiative. 

Chief Harley Chappell (Semiahmoo First Nation) opening the Moose Hide event.

But we do not do this work alone. I’d like to thank Chris Lewis, SFU Indigenous Executive Lead, the Office of Aboriginal Peoples and our very own, Treena Derrick (Facilities) for their support and leadership in activating this event and many other initiatives like it at the Surrey campus.

For SFU’s Indigenous students at our campus, I encourage you to connect with the Indigenous Student Centre, located on Galleria 5 (SRYC 5300), which offers a designated study space for currently enrolled Indigenous Students, as well as academic drop-in services, wellness and cultural programming. 

As I look ahead to National Indigenous Peoples Day on June 21st, I’d encourage everyone to take time out of your day to meet, connect and learn about the contributions of Indigenous communities to Canada, and please mark your calendar for the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation on September 30th  (more details to come later this Summer about how you can get involved and support this important day).

The reconciliation work at SFU Surrey is still in the early stages; the path will be long and winding. Let’s commit to making every day an opportunity for reconciliation and understanding. As you admire the Indigenous art pieces that are now a permanent part of the SFU Surrey campus, let them also help motivate you to walk with us on the path towards authentic reconciliation.