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UBC Reports | Vol. 51 | No. 4 | Apr. 7, 2005

Education is Key says Student, Mother and Chief

By Brian Lin

As the spring term draws to a close, Kim Baird is probably the only UBC student juggling term papers, final exams and a re-election campaign.

Recently elected to her fourth term as chief of the Tsawwassen First Nation, Baird first took office at the tender age of 28 -- one of the youngest female chiefs ever elected. Her youth belies a long list of achievements, including a recent agreement-in-principle with the governments of B.C. and Canada for treaty negotiations and an accommodation agreement with the Vancouver Port Authority.

The former, when finalized, will mark the first urban treaty in Canada, while the latter will bring her community jobs, compensation, and economic opportunities to the tune of $47 million over 30 years and settle environmental concerns that stretch back three decades.

With ratification from 85 per cent of the Nation’s voters, the agreement will allow Deltaport to embark on a $1 billion expansion and provide full-time jobs for dozens of Tsawwassen members, up from two at present time.

“It’s a time of enormous change and enormous opportunities,” says Baird, 34. “It’s unfortunate that the biggest driver of the negotiation was economic uncertainty surrounding the expansion, rather than a desire to resolve outstanding issues.

“But that doesn’t mean sincere relationship-building hasn’t taken place.”

While most progress in Aboriginal land claims thus far has been prompted by confrontation, Baird says, Tsawwassen’s ultimate goal is reconciliation with provincial and federal governments so it could focus on moving forward to ensure economic and social stability, a task she feels must have education as a primary focus.

“For First Nations to be participants in the provincial economy, we need skilled people,” says Baird, who at 17, was the first person in her community to graduate from high school in more than 20 years.

“There’s a real movement now not only to encourage our children to pursue higher education, but for adults who have been out of school for a while to finish high school or seek advanced education.”

Baird herself decided to pursue her Bachelor of Arts degree three years ago, almost a decade after she completed two years of college immediately after high school.

“My friends and family think I’m crazy!” says Baird, noting that she learned she was pregnant with her first child soon after beginning courses at the department of geography.

Baird admits it’s a handful to be a mother, a student and chief all at the same time.

“But many of my friends are seeing to it that I don’t let school fall by the wayside, and my family wants me to stick with it because they never had the opportunity.

“The way I see it, it really is an important aspect of my personal development,” says Baird. “Besides, there have been a few instances at the negotiation table where I’ve used the latest academic buzz words to my advantage.”

Baird says areas such as political and historical geography have helped her become more attuned to issues beyond her own community and given her a more well-rounded perspective that incorporates national and international experiences in the Aboriginal treaty process.

She hopes that her “back-to-school” experience will also rub off on her 18-month-old daughter, Amy, whom Baird considers her biggest accomplishment to date.

“I hope she has the luxury of spending as much time in university as she wants,” says Baird. “I really think that post-secondary experiences can expand your knowledge about so many things, from the world down to your own community.
But you really have to want to be there, as I do, to benefit from it.”

As for being chief, Baird says in a small community like Tsawwassen the ability to work co-operatively with other leaders is key to a successful political career.

“In an election, you may be running against your cousin,” says Baird, whose recent opponent is a former chief who recruited her to his staff 15 years ago.

“It’s important that we maintain a high level of respect in our campaigns because more likely than not, you’ll be working with them in some other leadership position.”

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Last reviewed 22-Sep-2006

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