SFU’s Office for Aboriginal Peoples bids Andrew Petter a warm farewell

September 10, 2020

By Shradhha Sharma

SFU’s Office for Aboriginal Peoples (OAP) hosted a small witnessing (Ust’am) ceremony on Aug. 31 to honour Andrew Petter on his last day as president and vice-chancellor after a decade of leadership and service.

During the ceremony, which was conducted in accordance with Coast Salish tradition and protocol, the person to be honoured is "stood up" and is blanketed as a mark of deep respect and gratitude.

“We are using the blanket to recognise 10 years of exemplary service, hard work and dedication to Indigenous faculty, students and staff, for providing leadership for the reconciliation report, and many other things,” said Indigenous Studies’ Prof. Rudy Reimer, who led the ceremony.

Ron Johnston, OAP director pro tem, mentioned, “The OAP commissioned the blanket, which was designed in relation to Burnaby mountain. We wanted it to be a special blanket so that when he wore it, he’d feel connected to the mountain and all the good work he has done.”

The ceremony

The ceremony began with two blankets laid out to define a sacred space, symbolising the special significance of Earth in Indigenous culture. As well, this space marked the spot upon which Petter stood as he was wrapped in the blanket and had a headband tied around his forehead.

Reimer explained that the blanket and headband are worn in a particular style to help the wearer keep a clear heart and mind, and to speak coherently.

Ceremony witnesses included Christopher Lewis (Squamish Nation), chair, SFU Board of Governors, Joanne Curry, vice-president, external relations, Jon Driver, vice-president, academic and provost pro tem, and education professor Michelle Pidgeon (Mi'kmaq ancestry). 

Also attending were Petter’s partner, Maureen Maloney, professor of public policy; Kris Magnusson, professor of education; Sue Porter, senior associate director, ceremonies and events; Gary George, officer for community relations, OAP; and Karen Matthews, administrative assistant, OAP. 

The ceremony concluded with singing and drumming performed by Lewis, Reimer, Johnston, George and Matthews.

(From L-R) Faculty of Education’s Prof. Michelle Pidgeon, Jon Driver, vice-president, Academic and Provost pro tem, Christopher Lewis, chair, SFU Board of Governors, Ron Johnston, OAP, director pro tem, Gary George, officer for community relations, OAP, President Andrew Petter and his partner Public Policy's Prof. Maureen Maloney, Indigenous Studies’ Prof. Rudy Reimer, Joanne Curry, vice-president, External Relations, Karen Matthews, administrative assistant, OAP and Faculty of Education’s Prof. Kris Magnusson.

Universities’ role in reconciliation

“What a huge pleasure and privilege it is to receive this honor,” said Petter, following the ceremony. “We’ve had our missteps but I am confident that in our commitment to reconciliation, in our work to move forward support for Indigenous peoples and communities, we’ve taken more steps in a forward direction than we have in a backward direction, imperfect as we all are.”

“Engagement is about mutual respect. To truly engage with others is not only to share with them your knowledge, but to have an appreciation for their knowledge and to respect their knowledge and I learned a long time ago, during my time in government, how much we have to learn from Indigenous peoples.”

He added the settler community needs to recognise and acknowledge the benefits stemming from the relationship with Indigenous peoples and that it can only be realised through mutual respect and walking a path together.

“Those of us in educational institutions bear a special responsibility to harness the power of education to overcome the sad history (of colonisation) and the role that educational institutions played that was so counter-productive to the well-being and success of Indigenous communities and peoples.”

Andrew Petter in the honouring blanket, which was woven by Rose Marie Williams (Squamish Nation), sister of Prof. Rudy Reimer. The distinct colours against a cream background convey symbolic meaning. The dark blue triangles symbolise the Burrard inlet and the tributaries flowing into it; the light blue triangles the sky, the light green triangles the plants on Burnaby mountain and the red and brown triangles represent the Arbutus tree, which is much revered in Coast Salish culture. The headband colours of white, red and black signify leadership in Squamish culture.