Creating First Nations mandated Post-Secondary Institutions

Apr 12, 2024 | 42-5, Bills, Blog, Governance, Legislature, Video | 0 comments

There is an important teaching that once you start something that you must finish the work.

In 2018, the provincial government invested $50 million in Indigenous language revitalization. It kickstarted and reinforced Indigenous language preservation and teaching. These funds were critical for communities across the province.

However, those resources had been spent and there was growing concern that the programs would suffer and not be able to continue. I’ve had a few conversations with the Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation Hon. Murray Rankin about the need to provide reliable and stable funding going forward.

With the need for a variety of post-secondary education and training across the province, First Nations mandated post-secondary institutions have the potential to create opportunities for skills development and provide a consistent source of funding to continue building the space for Indigenous language revitalization.


A. Olsen:

It’s wonderful to be able to stand in the Legislature here today and speak to Bill 20, the First Nations Mandated Post-Secondary Institutes Act.

I remember back when government first started to make serious investments in Indigenous language revitalization and recovery. It feels like so long ago now. I was having a conversation at lunchtime about how quickly the calendar moves and how slowly government moves and how these are necessary polarities. The calendar moves very quickly when we’re elected officials moving from one session to the next and then into constituency work. The pace of government is necessarily a lot slower.

In fact, in some cases, as this bill was tabled yesterday and here we are today debating second reading, I may have wished that it would have been a little bit slower, as I would have prepared more thoughtful and more detailed comments just to the impact that this bill has the potential for when it comes to Indigenous communities across the province.

I would say that limiting this to the impact to Indigenous communities would be wrong. The impact of fully understanding who we are — fully realizing and actualizing who British Columbia is, what British Columbia is — is only going to be achieved once we have a more complete picture of the really, really beautiful, diverse cultural mosaic that we have in this province.

When we look at British Columbia from an ecological perspective, we would celebrate it as one of the most — if not the most — biodiverse ecosystems in the entire country. In terms of species, in terms of different types of landscapes, British Columbia is recognized for its environmental biodiversity.

[3:15 p.m.]
The people in the land aren’t too different. In fact, when it comes to Indigenous people and the connections, rather than a sense of ownership of land, it is a sense of belonging to that land.

It should not be surprising that we can also celebrate having one of the most culturally diverse jurisdictions in Canada and probably the most culturally diverse jurisdictions or territories in all of North America, if not the world. The number of languages, just in linguistic groups here — over 30 linguistic groups that exist in this province. The number of dialects, in the hundreds, low thousands, maybe, of different dialects that come from those different linguistic groups.

If you just look at the territory that I’m from, W̱SÁNEĆ territory, and the linguistic similarities between our relatives here in the lək̓ʷəŋən area, where we do our work every day, to the south of the W̱SÁNEĆ people, and then the linguistic diversity just to the north of us, with the Quw’utsun and the Hul’qumi’num-speaking people. Of course, these languages are very similar but different. We can understand each other, but yet the language is just slightly different, just different accents, different pronunciations. It’s just an indication of how culturally diverse our beautiful province is.

It struck me, when I was up in the Wet’suwet’en territory a couple of years back and was talking to one of their hereditary leaders there, Namoks, and talking about how linguistically different they are from the Gitxsan people that they share a border with, but remarkably, distinctly different languages, different cultures. It really is what makes this province so unique and on the geographic — it might make us unique economically as well, but that’s probably for a different speech — but unique geographically here in North America.

As I’ve highlighted several times in the Legislature in a variety of different speeches over those seven years that I’ve had the honour of representing W̱SÁNEĆ here in the Legislative Assembly, I’m proudly from the W̱JOȽEȽP community, proudly to be connected with my relatives and the families throughout W̱SÁNEĆ.

We talked about, and I’ve talked about how language is so key to the understanding of the world views that the Indigenous people of British Columbia have, the connections that we have to our territories, the reasons why we are there, the relationships that we have to all the living and non-living, the inanimate and inanimate in our territories. Locked in language.

It makes the original acts of these Crown governments that we are here to be elected to represent and be representatives in…. It makes those original acts both understandable from the perspective of those Crown governments in that their whole entire goal was to displace the Indigenous connections to those lands that were being…. As I’ve talked about on a fairly regular basis in here, the displacement was so that the Crown governments could take control of the lands and the resources, and, as we have learned, and as we are learning about the history of this province, done without the appropriate legal agreements for the vast majority of the lands here in British Columbia.

The displacement, the destruction of language, the destruction of cultures, the separation of family members from their children, the erosion and undermining of Indigenous mothers’ ability to look after and raise their children, our families to look after and raise our children are all part of the same policy framework that had an intense target on language.

[3:20 p.m.]

As we passed the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act in 2019, an important policy change and an important philosophical change that we made in our province, and I was quite proud to stand with all the members of the House…. I was quite proud to work with the former Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation.

I was quite proud to work with the former Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation Scott Fraser and his team. As that was navigated — a very tricky, very complex bit of policy work — as it changed the focus from the rights denial to rights recognition — a key shift, a key change in our province that I think we can all be proud of….

It was in the end, not just a piece of policy work that former Minister Fraser did or just a piece of policy work that I worked on with the ministry. But in the end, it was a piece of policy work that we all engaged in together in that vote.

Many of the members in this House didn’t have the benefit of being raised on an Indian reserve, understanding the history of the relations between Crown governments and Indigenous peoples in a way that I was introduced to as a kid who was brought home to an Indian reserve in the mid-1970s and as a kid that was really informed by the experiences of the things that I witnessed, the things that I experienced, and more deeply than that, the things that I hear my family experienced that I never did.

We know that the displacement of people from territory, the displacement of people from their homelands, from the place that they belong to…. Moving families around. Intentionally creating policy that generates poverty rather than the ability for people to create wealth. Residential schools. Day schools.

Before I move on from that, the use of the residential and the day schools as a way to separate people from their languages. Children being forced not to speak their language. Terrible, terrible things done to children who just wanted to speak their Indigenous language. Terrible things that were done to families whose kids were in day school. The fear that the parents had of teaching their kids their Indigenous language, that might lead their kids to being taken away. And so these really challenging relationships evolve between children and their parents, parents and their children — and they still live in the same house.

Often overlooked when it comes to the day school experience is this tension between the parent and the child and the real intense desire to protect the child from all of the awful things that they heard about and to protect the parents from losing their children to residential schools. There was this belief: “At least they’re coming home.” But how residential schools were used to separate language and culture from a people in order to begin to undermine and erode the people’s sense of identity, the people’s sense of place, the people’s sense of belonging and the people’s worldview….

As we have debated in here on a regular basis over the last few years around Indigenous language revitalization, one of the key acts that this government can do is invest in that language revitalization.
My daughter goes to ȽÁU,WELṈEW̱ school. “Place of refuge” is what ȽÁU,WELṈEW̱ means — the place of refuge. The name ȽÁU,WELṈEW̱ comes from a sacred mountain in our territory, just between Central Saanich and North Saanich as you head out to the ferry.

[3:25 p.m.]

It’s that mountain that’s got the navigation ball on the top of it. That’s ȽÁU,WELṈEW̱, the place of refuge. That’s the place that our ancestors tied our canoes to in the time of the great flood. When the flood waters receded, they gathered at the top of the mountain, and they said that this is the place that we are going to name ȽÁU,WELṈEW̱.

It’s the place where we received our name, W̱SÁNEĆ, as the emerging people, the emerging lands, the people of the emerging lands, where we could gather as the flood waters receded. And so W̱SÁNEĆ stayed for the name for the Saanich Peninsula and eventually the name for the people that lived there, the W̱SÁNEĆ people, emergent.

In the 1970s and 1980s, our Elders, my grandfather, my great-uncles, my great-aunties made a dedicated commitment to preserve our language. They knew that the stories — the culture, the sense of belonging, the world view that was captured within the stories of our language — were really about identity.

[J. Tegart in the chair.]

They were really about preserving an identity that the government had done everything that it could to try to destroy and remove from Indigenous peoples, not just in W̱SÁNEĆ, but in communities across the province.
They made a concerted effort to protect that language. And our Elders — my grandfather, my great-uncles, my grandfather Ernie Olsen, my late great-uncle PENÁĆ, my grandfather TELQUILEM, my late great-uncle PENÁĆ, David Elliott Sr. and many others — each had their own way of doing that, but they worked very, very hard to preserve the language. To protect it, to build a little nest for it and to hold it for another time so that it could be picked up and carried further in the next generation.

And that’s exactly what happened at that school at ȽÁU, WELṈEW̱. The Saanich Indian school board became this little place that that language was protected. When we built a new school for our elementary in the 1980s and 1990s, I can’t remember the exact date now, but a long time ago when I was just a young man….


A. Olsen: Thanks. That’s what I was waiting for, was that. I appreciate that.

There was a discussion amongst the Elders in our community about what we should name that school. I’ve heard that story a few times now, and it’s a moving story of a debate, that happened amongst those language protectors, about what name should we put on this school. It’s an important part of our culture: the naming and the passing of a name from one to another. It’s a very deliberate and a very honourable thing to carry a name. My name is SȾHENEP. That’s an honourable thing, for me to carry that name. It’s an important thing for me to protect the honour of that name. That’s the responsibility that I have. SȾHENEP, it’s my job to look after it. So that when another SȾHENEP is identified, then they will also understand the role and responsibility.

Just last year, two of my nephews, my nieces got that name, SȾHENEP. It was important for us to share the responsibility, that they now carry, in order to hold that name in a good way. Others got versions of SȾHENEP, because they are all connected to that individual name, SȾHENEP, that we received that name from.
Now we carry it together, and we have a collective responsibility. Even though they’re not my brothers and sisters, my kids, my children, they’re my nieces and my nephews, they’re my cousins, and we together have this collective responsibility now to carry this name.

So they had this discussion about what they were going to name the school, and they decided to bring the name, ȽÁU,WELṈEW̱, the place of refuge, down and put it onto that elementary school. That language…. That little nest that they had built. That’s what they were going to name it, ȽÁU,WELṈEW̱. It was going to be….

[3:30 p.m.]

As the story is told, there was an argument, a very strong argument, that was made, or a very strong point that was made, maybe, in the discussion, that that mountain already had that name. And it was important that that name be brought down from that place and be brought to the school to be shared.

I’ve heard this story a couple of times now, and it’s a very moving story because the place that protected us in the great flood…. As the story was told, there was a new flood. There was a new flood in our territory that has impacted our culture, the worldview, the ability of the W̱SÁNEĆ people to self-realize, to self-determine. A lot of those things were taken away in that new flood. What we needed was a new place of refuge for the culture, for the language, SENĆOŦEN — the language that has been spoken many times in this House now. It’s a great honour. And those words that Her Honour our Lieutenant Governor speaks in here are from our language as well.

Much respect to Hansard, who really honour the languages, those words that are spoken in here. When they don’t have access to it, they work really hard to make sure that they get it right on the record, because they recognize how important that language is, that they capture it. They should be acknowledged for the work that they do to try to ensure that our record is a good one.

But they brought that name down and they put it on the school. Now the beneficiaries of that are our children, who are actually in a language nest program, an immersion program. My daughter Ella is now in grade 6. She started when she was in grade 1. She’s now got six school years of SENĆOŦEN language learning. She is this beacon for our family.

Her dad doesn’t know that language. I can say a few words. I can make them sound pretty good. I think I have pretty good pronunciation for a person who can’t speak it to any great extent. I think I understand the concepts that are being taught through the language, that are being explained through the language. I’m getting pretty good at sitting at events and really being able to follow along and understand what our speakers are saying, just from listening and experiencing. But my daughter gets taught the language and the stories, and they become a part of her worldview in a way that only her great-grandfather could have imagined.

My son Silas is at Stelly’s High School. He was one year ahead of that first language immersion program. He missed it by one year, so he was in the public school system. He’s now at Stelly’s High School. School district 63 has recognized SENĆOŦEN as a second language, part of the second language curriculum. So, he gets picked up by a van and he gets taken over to the campus at W̱JOȽEȽP with his peers, and they get to learn SENĆOŦEN as their second language. That’s very meaningful to him.

It’s the best that we could do for him in his education. One year younger and he could have been on the front edge of that learning. I see those kids that have been on that front edge of the learning, and they’ve learned a lot about how to learn, and the school has learned a lot about how to learn. As the provincial government stepped up and put that first $50 million on the table to preserve language, and they found a mechanism to distribute that money, there was always the fear about how it was that they were going to be able to maintain this.

There’s a cultural teaching in W̱SÁNEĆ that once you start something like that, you have to continue. You have to follow through. You can’t stop this now. So how do we preserve that? How do we make that happen? I was wondering how it was…. When I heard the story of how our relatives in the urban communities at the Victoria Native Friendship Centre have a linguistic program….

[3:35 p.m.]

Of course, as I was talking about the beautiful diversity of this province, nowhere is that cultural diversity more recognizable than in the friendship centres in communities right across the province. Nowhere is the linguistic challenge more difficult than in the urban centres in those friendship centres.

But they are also the little cultural nests within the urban centre for our relatives, who have been displaced from their territories and have moved into the urban areas, to go and connect with their friends and their family and their extended family to celebrate culture together.

When I heard that that funding was cut, it was very sad to me and very devastating that this program that was giving a space for language learning and growth was at the whim of government funding.

As I look to the way that this bill has been described, this bill that’s in front of us here, Bill 20, and about an attempt to create a more stable and more secure environment for Indigenous language learning and Indigenous language preservation, and more importantly, Indigenous language revitalization, as so many Indigenous languages are right on the brink of extinction. We saw that here as the words of the lək̓ʷəŋən language are now out in front of this building in perpetuity, and we celebrated that together, all four parties standing together, blanketed with my relatives from Esquimalt and Songhees.

As we see that that preservation is happening, we know that those fluent speakers are fewer and fewer every day, and there are languages that now have no fluent speakers alive anymore. So the revitalization, the language rescue project, needs a committed government. It needs a committed source of funding, and it needs a model that’s sustainable. If we can create, through these post-secondary institutions, a model for that, so that language can be taught and preserved and taught across the province, then that’s a very exciting thing.

I think that as we get through to the committee stage of this bill, some of the questions that I’m going to be asking are just around that stability, just around the ability for this program to get started. And I note that while we are celebrating this today, that we are still a few years, or a year and a bit, away from actually being able to see this realized. I’m searching now for the date, but I think that it’s 2025, so maybe a year away from it coming into effect. I think it’s important that we understand that the timeline of Indigenous languages is very short — very, very short for some languages.

I want to raise my hands to the minister. I want to raise my hands to this provincial government, who has seen and heard the need for Indigenous language preservation and Indigenous language revitalization. I want to acknowledge the comments of the speaker before me, who talked about the importance of education and post-secondary education and the importance that that is accessible to Indigenous learners.

I haven’t talked a lot about this, but I’ve just recently gone back to school. I’m doing it in this context as well. Lifelong learning — the ability to learn and grow and work and be a part of the community. That should be something that we can all aspire to. The creation of Indigenous institutes, First Nations post-secondary institutions that can partner with all of these other post-secondary institutions in the province and really create a strong fabric of learning for Indigenous people in this province is not just a benefit to Indigenous people, it’s a benefit to all of us. It’s that rising tide that lifts all boats.

So I want to raise my hands to the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs and the Assembly of First Nations who have both made this a priority through their resolutions and their initiatives.

[3:40 p.m.]

I want to raise my hands to the First Nations Education Steering Committee, FNESC, we know it as, and the Indigenous Adult and Higher Learning Association. These are organizations whose job it is to ensure that our students and our learners have access to the programs that are meaningful to them and that they’re well-funded.

I look forward to seeing this program grow from this small number of institutions to institutions right across the province. I look forward to…. In maybe some of those smaller communities, maybe a full school is not something that can be done, but there can be places that people can go and get learning that’s connected to a broader institution, larger institution.

I really see the potential of this, and I hope that this model grows, and that, more importantly than anything else, government is clear. Once we start this work of Indigenous language revitalization, it is a pathway that we need to remain committed to. It is not a pathway that we can abandon.

As these programs grow and become more solid in our communities, no doubt that the Indigenous communities are going to pick them up and carry them. However, there has been so much investment in tearing Indigenous languages down, it is incumbent upon this institution, this Crown government institution, to invest, to ensure that we’re on stable footing and that we’ve got a good foundation.

I see this bill as something to celebrate. I know it moved a lot of emotions in our office, and we feel that. I feel that here today. It’s very powerful. I raise my hands to the minister, and I raise my hands to the government for moving this initiative. I look forward to engaging on it in committee stage.



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