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UBC Reports | Vol. 47 | No. 11 | July 12, 2001

Honour, challenge and responsibility

The new director of the First Nations House of Learning wants Aboriginal students to outnumber totem poles at UBC

In a ceremony featuring eagle down, drums and dancers, Richard Vedan became director of the First Nations House of Learning (FNHL) by accepting a talking stick from former director Jo-Ann Archibald.

"It's an honour to be involved with this house," says Vedan who is an associate professor of Social Work and Family Studies. "I feel privileged to be able to build on the legacies of previous directors and to give back the support I have received."

A UBC alumnus and member of the Shuswap Nation who joined the faculty in 1995, Vedan has served on the boards of Vancouver Friendship Centre, the Native Education Centre and the Vancouver Police and Native Liaison Society.

"This is an exciting time for First Nations academics," he says. "We're starting to see more than one person per faculty and that's something entirely new."

A key challenge of the new position will be to increase student enrollment.

"It's been said that there are more totem poles than First Nations students at UBC," says Vedan.

He plans to take more aggressive steps to connect UBC and FNHL with colleges and other Canadian universities in order to attract undergraduate and graduate students. Advances such as the Prior Learning Assessment Program that gives credit for life-learning helps to make university education a possibility not just for young people but also for students in mid-life.

There is a great need for well-educated expert advisors as First Nations regain governance and other responsibilities, says Vedan. Long-standing programs in the faculties of Law, Education, Medicine and Forestry that provide First Nations curriculum and support for students can serve as models in meeting the demand for First Nations graduates.

But the educational challenges reach right back to elementary school, says Vedan. The dropout level for First Nations youth is about Grade 5 -- a consequence of what he terms multi-generational marginalization.

First Nations educators are needed to teach and encourage students to stay in school. In addition, solutions must be found for health, economic and social problems that contribute to the dropout rate.

Vedan will continue to teach and pursue his clinical and research interest in the efficacy of traditional healing practices in dealing with violent behaviour in First Nations men and youth. In addition, he is completing a doctorate in curriculum development.

An active man who enjoys cycling and music, he is also a sailor who balances his life with time spent on his 12-metre ketch called St'iqt Qwy'ilc or Cloud Dancer.

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Last reviewed 22-Sep-2006

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