The journey to establishing meaningful and inclusive Indigenous Visions as an inherent part of the Pearson College UWC community continues this fall and into the West Coast winter, according to Indigenous Consultant Marcia Dawson.

“As we journey on the path of reconciliation, we are building on strengths and addressing assumptions and gaps in knowledge and understanding,” says Dawson, who has been working with the Pearson community since late summer. “We recognize that many people in the campus community throughout Pearson’s history have quietly built friendships and working relationships with First Nations and other Indigenous community elders, leaders and members in Canada and around the world.

“That’s a good foundation upon which to start as we work to address both truth and reconciliation within the context of the College.”

Earlier in her term as President and Head of College, Désirée McGraw called on the Pearson community to understand how the school could best act upon the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls to action. She, together with Chief Operating Officer Ty Pile and staff, continue to work with the Scia’new First Nation on a variety of initiatives ranging from land use (the campus is on the unceded territory of the Scia’new [Beecher Bay] First Nation) to establishing educational and cultural exchanges.

Dawson recently shared with Pearson eNews an update on actions to help develop an Indigenous Vision and Action Plan and to continue to develop and improve culturally-appropriate supports for Indigenous students.

Following a campus community call for interest by McGraw, a new Indigenous Visions Advisory Committee was established to provide guidance, advice and wisdom in the development of the Indigenous Visions reconciliation plan that will inform the larger Strategic Plan for the College.

“The intention is, not only to build knowledge and understanding that informs the College’s overall strategic plan, but also to outline key commitments and specific actions that support the journey towards systems change, strengthened and culturally-valid education for Indigenous and non-Indigenous students and improved and restored relationships with Indigenous people,” notes Dawson.

“Uy’ skweyul. With the support and guidance of Marcia Dawson, we are loftily and collaboratively setting out to create and develop a reconciliation action plan outlining the commitments and key actions to support the journey towards systems change and strengthen education for Indigenous students and non-Indigenous students alike,” says Candice Hall, from the Coast Salish First Nations, who is Pearson’s Human Resources Associate and Volunteer Coordinator.

“With the goals of also strengthening relationships with Indigenous Peoples and understanding how the TRC Calls to Action can be implemented here at Pearson, I feel extremely honored and optimistic to be a part of this very important journey, for our current community members and also for our future community members. Huy tseep q’u Candice.”

From the beginning, Dawson has counselled respect and patience for the process of establishing Indigenous Visions at the College. She notes that initiatives are underway across a broad spectrum and that some are works in progress.

“We want to give voice to Indigenous students so that they can tell us what is working at the college in terms of supports, what more needs to be done – and what is not working — and what the supports should look like for the Indigenous students,” says Dawson. Both informal one-on-one and small group meetings are helping to identify key concerns, ideas and recommendations designed to inform Pearson about ways to establish support for Indigenous Students during this current school year.

Dawson continues to work with colleagues such as Elders Alex and Nella Nelson who have facilitated sessions with Indigenous students as well as with staff and Faculty on campus. Educator, and a founding board member of the Victoria Native Friendship Centre, Leslie McGarry is supporting Indigenous student informal evening gatherings and is working to set up campus and community-based culturally appropriate, holistic spiritual and cultural supports for Indigenous students on their educational journeys.

“As an Indigenous person who grew up watching my community struggle with the various brutalities of colonization, I have many mixed feelings towards the word ‘reconciliation’,” states Ace Harry, second-year student from British Columbia.

“Just as much as I associate it with healing and progress, I associate it with inaction and continued assimilation. My sentiments towards Canadian post-secondary institutions are similar. However, that is what makes this work Pearson is undertaking so important to me. The goals are idealistic and ambitious, yet consistently respectful of the difficult, complex, and utterly frustrating nature of reconstructing the way we think about Indigenous rights to land, culture, and existence. That is what accountability looks like to me and I’m extremely excited to help hold Pearson College accountable to its UWC values.”

Dawson notes that work continues on complementary initiatives including exploring resources such as a youth worker, potentially a position shared with local school districts or First Nations and finalizing the establishment of an Elders-in-Residence program. Scia’new Elders Rick Perry and Henry Chipps have joined the Pearson community and are participating in the Indigenous Visions Advisory Committee.

In an earlier message shared to the campus community, McGraw underlined the fact that the College acknowledges both the colonial structural and other harms perpetrated upon Indigenous Peoples around the world as well as the strength and resilience of Indigenous peoples and cultures.

At Pearson, “(we are) committed to addressing the systemic changes required to transform the College through an Indigenous Vision that reflects the needs, aspirations and goals of Indigenous peoples in education and life. The College recognizes that the journey to reconciliation is complex and must include Indigenous peoples and communities…this is not a step-by-step path; there will be both inspirational and uncomfortable conversations that will be required as part of the journey towards transformation and change.”