Building foundations for transformation
by SFU Advancement & Alumni Engagement
Len Pierre, member of Katzie First Nation and founder of his own Indigenous consulting firm, Len Pierre Consulting, says completing his Master of Education degree at SFU helped lay the foundation for the principles and practices he brings to his work facilitating Indigenous cultural safety training, reconciliation, decolonization and anti-racism in large organizations.
Raised with deep ties to his Katzie culture, Pierre came to the MEd program with many years of experience working for non-profits and public education in the areas of Indigenous and adult education. But there was a time as a young adult when he struggled to envision himself at university.
“I was about 17 years old, and my Aboriginal school worker took us—me and some of my cousins who also grew up on Katzie First Nation—on tours of local universities like UBC and SFU. I remember being wide-eyed and having a kind of hesitation, that I would never make my way through the front doors. It was honestly really hard. I struggled throughout all of my academic studies. I ultimately built up my work experience in the non-profit and education sectors—that, in addition to all my learning around Indigenous initiatives, education, culture, history, and activism, led me to doing my MEd.”
Although colonialism and its legacy have barred many Indigenous people from safely accessing their culture, language, family and elders, Pierre has been immersed in his Katzie Coast Salish culture from birth. Being surrounded by elders, knowledge keepers, and rich spiritual and cultural educators has helped him stay grounded and connected as a Katzie First Nation person.
Before he came to SFU, Pierre worked as an Aboriginal Education Assistant for the Surrey School District and amassed experience in Indigenous education and program leadership within various organizations, including the First Nations Health Authority, Fraser Health Authority, and the Canadian Centre for Mental Health and Addiction. When peers from Vancouver Community College suggested he check out SFU, Pierre decided to apply and was accepted.
Though he initially struggled with imposter syndrome, Pierre says conversations with new colleagues within the first couple weeks of the program affirmed that his experience, ideas and perspective would be important contributions to future conversations about knowledge, access, and the necessity of institutional transformation.
“My time in the MA program was transformational, in the fullest sense of the word. It changed who I am as an educator and facilitator, but it was also transformative in light of the events that were happening at the time which paved the way for important classroom conversations: the very first National Truth and Reconciliation Day; the initial findings of 215 children in unmarked graves on the grounds of a residential school in Kamloops; a report confirming and highlighting the vast amount of systemic-racism in B.C.’s health care system. All these things happened while I was in this program, and were a big part of widespread societal and national conversations.”
As educators and emerging leaders in a place of learning, Pierre says he and his peers had, and still have, a critical responsibility to engage in difficult conversations, address events and systemic inequities, and work together toward real change.
Having access to a wide variety of leaders in the program made all the difference, Pierre says. By listening to and sharing leadership strategies that were successful in so many different contexts—his peers and professors come from diverse backgrounds including trades, technology, media, anthropology, aesthetics, and even dentistry—Pierre was able to build what he calls “promising practices, principles, and philosophies” into the foundation of his own approach to working with clients.
As an SFU alumnus, Pierre sees himself as an unofficial SFU Indigenous ambassador. He has kept in touch with many peers and professors, and has been invited to give guest lectures and workshops for many different departments and faculties at the university.
“I have a lot of pride, responsibility, and sense of community in being an SFU alumnus,” says Pierre. “You will find so many new connections and work from being a part of this wonderful community long after you've graduated from your program.”
When asked what words of wisdom he would offer to future Indigenous alumni, Pierre encourages his peers to take up space and use their voice.
“We need you. You belong here. Your voice and presence matter,” he says. “Be patient with yourself, and be patient with the systems we all live within. Though it’s sporadic and feels so slow at times, know that change is happening.”