A foundational principle of Dr. George Nicholas’ work with and for Indigenous communities over the past 30 years has been the belief that heritage is a basic human right and that Indigenous heritage is inseparably linked to issues of identity and rights and title. His journey to decolonize archaeology and other related heritage studies began while teaching at the SFU campus located on the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc Indian Reserve in Kamloops (1991–2005) and as founder and Director of SFU’s Indigenous Archaeology program there.
While in the Kamloops program, Dr. Nicholas sought daily to right imbalances inherent in Western investigations of cultural heritage through a variety of community-engaged actions – all of which had significant positive impacts on the very cultural fabric of Secwépemc communities. He did this by being an extraordinary teacher, mentor, and student advisor, devoting countless hours to educating community members about their archaeological heritage and perhaps most importantly, empowering Indigenous students to embrace the breadth and depth of their own heritage. His contribution to the Kamloops program has left a lasting legacy within Secwépemc territory, with many students that Dr. Nicholas taught or was a graduate supervisor of employed as teachers, administrators, cultural managers, archaeologists, researchers—all working to promote, protect and manage their heritage.
In the 1990s Dr. Nicholas began publishing about the injustices inherent in the discipline of archaeology. While relatively commonplace today, such publications were rare at that time. Among his early publications, his co-edited volume At A Crossroads: Archaeology and First Peoples in Canada (1997) is perhaps most noteworthy. By allowing Indigenous peoples to have a voice, and to loudly and clearly advocate for that voice, this volume had a huge impact on practicing archaeologists and Indigenous peoples around the world. Since that time, Dr. Nicholas has published countless articles (academic and popular) with Indigenous and non-Indigenous colleagues, and given as many talks about valuing Indigenous heritage. The most recent is the ground-breaking publication "Recommendations for Decolonizing British Columbia’s Heritage-Related Processes and Legislation”, which he co-authored with colleagues from the Sto:lo Nation.
While continuing his connection with many Secwépemc and other First Nations communities, in the early 2000s, Dr. Nicholas broadened his focus to include Indigenous communities around the world. This is most stunningly reflected in his extraordinary vision to create the Intellectual Property Issues in Cultural Heritage (IPinCH) project. For eight years (2008 – 2016), he brought together a team of over 50 academics, heritage professionals, policy makers, and community members from seven countries and 25 partner organizations to explore the rights, values, and responsibilities associated with material culture, cultural knowledge, and the practice of heritage research. Among the community partners were Indigenous representatives from cultural groups within North America, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, southern Africa, and Kyrgyzstan. The IPinCH project has had deep positive and lasting impacts on Indigenous communities around the world. In 2013 he received the first-ever Partnership Award from Canada’s Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council. It could be argued that Dr. Nicholas, alongside his Indigenous collaborators, teachers, and friends, has contributed in significant ways to Indigenous heritage sovereignty globally. For decades, he has devoted his time, his intelligence, and his heart to the many aspects of social justice embedded in issues surrounding Indigenous heritage.