By ‘Naa-mehl (Marcia Dawson), Indigenous Consultant
Amma Sah! Simgigyet, Sigidimhaanak’ ganhl k’uba wilkshxw Toyaxsi’y ‘niisi’m. Naa-mehl hl we’y. Lax Gibuu hl pdeega’ay. Wilps Haizimsque win sawitxswi’y. Angeline Turner hl noo’y. Magnus Turner hl nigwoodi’y. Victoria win joga’y.
Greetings to everyone in the Pearson College UWC community. My name is Marcia Dawson, I am honoured to be invited to support the journey for Pearson College UWC towards an Indigenous Vision.
I’d like to take this opportunity to tell you about myself, the work that I do and the work I will undertake with the College. My ancestral name is ‘Naa-mehl which loosely translated means ‘to tell,’ as in a messenger. My English language name is Marcia Dawson. I look forward to spending time on campus, here on the unceded territory of the Scia’new (Beecher Bay) First Nation, and to meeting as many people in the community as possible over the coming weeks and months.
I am Gitxsan, from Gitanyow in what is now known as north-western British Columbia. My four grown sons and I live in unceded Lekwungen territory (Victoria). I am Lax Gibuu which means I am from the wolf clan and Wilp Haizimsque which means I belong to the House of Chief Haizimsque. My father Magnus was a hereditary chief and my mother Angeline a matriarch. My background is Political Science from the University of Victoria with a Master of Arts in Leadership from Royal Roads University. I specialize in systems change and innovation with specific focus on equity for Indigenous People and Indigenous knowledge systems. I work to achieve this through bridging Indigenous and non-Indigenous people.
I have been invited to work with the College to support the development of the Indigenous Vision. This is a vision that is comprehensive, positive, forward-looking and inclusive of the community. Over the course of the Fall and Winter, I will be working to create a Reconciliation Plan that will guide the journey towards strengthened Indigenous education and services at the College as well as help build a renewed and strengthened relationship with both the Scia’new First Nation and with Indigenous peoples more broadly. The journey to reconciliation is not step by step and while walking this path is brave and honourable, it is not one without challenges — but it is one that carries great promise and an opportunity for transformative change that reflects and honours Indigenous people and communities.
My work with organizations and communities across B.C., Canada and around the world, has shown that a vision of this breadth — one that helps address equity for Indigenous people by bridging Indigenous and non-Indigenous relationships — is developed through discussion dialogue, openness, willingness, vulnerability, reflection and commitment.
My work with Pearson is focused on two areas. The first is direct and meaningful support for Indigenous students at the school. The second is the challenge of defining what reconciliation can and should look like for Pearson and its community. Both are interconnected, of course, but each need to be addressed with a deep understanding of Indigenous people and the College’s unique situation.
The principles that will guide my work are: to build on the strength of what the College has already achieved towards an Indigenous vision of reconciliation; to honour the local culture and protocols of the Scia’new people and Indigenous people more broadly; to give voice to the Indigenous students and communities, the staff and faculty throughout the process; to ensure that the journey to reconciliation is is guided by those who will be impacted and benefit from the Indigenous Vision moving forward. My role is neutral and designed to support the journey towards reconciliation.
In terms of the continuity of student support, I have begun the process of listening, learning and speaking with Indigenous students at Pearson and to help understand how they define their needs. I also am talking to, and learning from, Faculty, staff and alumni. I’m asking what good things were put in place that we wish to continue, and what more do we need to do to continue this work at Pearson? The information and knowledge gathered from these conversations will be used to create a model of comprehensive and respectful Indigenous Student Support moving forward.
Elders Alex and Nella Nelson have been invited on campus to work directly with returning and new Indigenous students. I have had an initial meeting with Scia’new First Nation to explore an elder-in-residence model that will provide support for students on many levels. Resources like this will be complemented by the College’s experiential education initiatives. For example, this year will see a full community-building CAS program created and delivered in conjunction with the Scia’new First Nation.
We are finalizing weekly cultural programming sessions with Leslie McGarry of the Kwakiutl First Nation who works with both the Royal BC Museum and Royal Roads University. Leslie has a wealth of knowledge in terms of culture, teachings and a range of knowledge around different Indigenous cultural practices and protocols. I will also be on campus during gatherings and will meet with students, Faculty and staff during, and outside of, these sessions.
Before most students arrived on campus, we welcomed Faculty, staff and adult residents to a healing and team building session led by elders Nella Nelson and Alex Nelson. Taking a strongly cultural approach, Alex, a survivor of the Indian residential school system, and Nella each shared their stories of resilience and community strength as a way of both instilling knowledge and encouraging understanding in a cultural and systems context. This session was followed by a facilitated dialogue I led to acknowledge past challenges and issues as well as identity and share goals and aspirations for a collaborative mission for the year ahead, holding students at the center of that vision.
In September I will begin the work of developing a reconciliation plan. Over the fall and early winter months, I will work with the College community to bring together a core group as an advisory committee that will provide input from the leadership, Faculty, staff, current students – all students, Indigenous and non-Indigenous — alumni and representatives from Scia’new First Nation. This core group will help guide discussions for the community which will help me develop a framework for facilitating dialogue with each of the each of the stakeholder groups.
The outcome of the dialogue will provide the framework for the reconciliation plan and outline the work that the College will need to undertake to genuinely support Indigenous education and to continue to build meaningful relationships.
As part of this process, I will be developing an anonymous survey that will be a “safe space” for individuals to provide comments that they might want to raise without being identified, as a mechanism for including all voices.
Reconciliation is multifaceted and complex. The reality is that we know that not everyone supports reconciliation and that not everyone understands it. This provides an opportunity for a person to safely say, for example, “I don’t know what reconciliation is?” In short, it is an opportunity to express anonymously, clearly and openly whatever they wish to express about the process of reconciliation.
In terms of timelines, in the new (calendar) year, I will be focused on developing my report, analyzing survey results, writing a draft plan and working with the advisory committee and leadership to develop a final version which will be shared with Pearson’s Board of Directors.
In my role I have worked with a wide variety of organizations and institutions, such as the Province of British Columbia Ministry of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation and Simon Fraser University (SFU), among others. I think there are learnings we can draw upon in terms of understanding what those institutions are already doing and what has been successful and not so successful. I’m also fortunate to work with colleagues, Indigenous leaders, Elders and scholars who have the benefit of wide connections and extensive experience. They have tremendous knowledge to share, experience with lessons learned and knowledge of best practices in this undertaking.
I recently developed a reconciliation report for SFU (Reconciliation 2018-19 at SFU, launched this past July). The approach I took with that report was a decolonizing/Indigenization approach to illuminate the stories about the work that is being undertaken at SFU. It’s a slightly different approach to the previous reports that institutions typically write when they’re reporting out to communities.
I recognize and honour the many, many people throughout Pearson’s history who have established deep and meaningful relationships with individuals from Indigenous communities and of Indigenous heritage. The College shares the land with the neighbouring Scia’new First Nation and more recently entered into respectful and productive discussions leading to a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) about the land that we inhabit with the Nation and the District of Metchosin. Actions such as these are meaningful steps along the path of reconciliation and show a genuine and consistent respect for both Indigenous peoples and the College community.
I understand that Pearson is committed to helping ensure that all members of the community understand the truth, history and contemporary realities of Indigenous people. I also understand the College wants to ensure that Indigenous students — and all students – have safe, brave and supportive spaces. Together, we will build on these existing commitments and strengths.
In closing, I want to express my sincere appreciation for the students, Pearson College UWC staff and faculty and Scia’new First Nation who have supported this journey this summer and I look forward to strengthened work and connection moving forward towards a meaningful and relevant Indigenous Vision
Gilakas’la Toyaxsiy’ nism, With respect and warmth,