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Tsleil-Waututh singing and drumming rang through Simon Fraser University’s Saywell Hall Atrium on November 21 to celebrate the Honourable Steven L. Point (Xwĕ lī qwĕl tĕl) and his work to improve Indigenous literacy in British Columbia.
In accordance with age-old Coast Salish protocol and practice, distinguished speakers at the witnessing ceremony honoured Point in Halkomelem and English for championing literacy while keeping his peoples’ old ways alive. Oral histories and traditions are affirmed at such ceremonies where witnesses recognize and acknowledge the important “work” that is taking place.
After Point was “stood up” and blanketed, he told of how a conversation with Bob Blacker, his aide-de-camp during his term as lieutenant governor, sparked the Write to Read Project that delivers books computers and high speed internet to remote First Nations communities around the province.
“When we began to bring books out something magic happened because other people started coming with us,” said Point. “Corporations, businesses, Rotarians, they began walking with us. They’re building libraries now, not just bookshelves.”
Point, who is from the Skowkale First Nation, became the province’s first Indigenous lieutenant governor in 2007 after practicing law and serving as a provincial court judge as well as holding positions of influence in First Nations, provincial and federal governments.
The ceremony was connected with a FASSFirst course taught by criminology professor Brenda Morrison called Reading, ‘Riting & Rising Up: Weaving our Narratives on Rights, Justice and Reconciliation. The course is grounded in Coast Salish ceremony and explores themes of rights, justice and reconciliation with guest speakers who tell how they use writing to rise up and enable communities. FASSFirst courses are designed to help new students make a successful transition to university and connect with their professors and peers during their first term.
Indigenous people face many barriers to education due to the ongoing impacts of colonization. Point urged the students from Morrison’s class to get their degrees so they could return to their communities and help their people.
“They’re embarking upon a great time in our history of First Nations as we begin to resolve long-outstanding land claims and begin the long journey towards self-government,” he said. “And when we do that we’re going to need more hands, more educated young people like yourselves.”