20 Years in the House: UBC’s First Nations House of Learning is Celebrating its Successes this Year

UBC Reports Extras | Mar. 14, 2008

By Basil Waugh

As UBC toasts its Centenary, the university will recognize another milestone on March 14 — the 20th anniversary of the First Nations House of Learning (FNHL).

“For two decades, FNHL has been working to make UBC more accessible to Aboriginal Peoples and to improve the university’s ability to meet the needs of First Nations, Métis, and Inuit students,” says director Richard Vedan, a member of the Secwepemc First Nation. “It is a time to celebrate achievements, and to recognize the work still to be done.”

Since it’s creation in 1987, FNHL has introduced a wide variety of Aboriginal academic programs, research projects, student services and community outreach projects. UBC has recruited 18 Aboriginal faculty members and the Trek 2010 vision statement pledges ongoing improvements to UBC’s accessibility to Aboriginal people and its ability to meet their educational needs.

UBC has more than 100 courses with an Aboriginal focus and programs in nearly every faculty. These range from the Faculty of Arts’ First Nations Studies Program, which covers everything from Aboriginal art history to land claims, to the Sauder School of Business’ Ch’nook Aboriginal Business Program and Ts’Kel, an interdisciplinary, cross-faculty graduate studies program devoted to issues related to Indigenous research.

Since the late Frank Calder ( Nisga’a) — the first Status Indian elected to a legislature in Canada — graduated in 1946, UBC has educated generations of Aboriginal leaders, including B.C.’s new lieutenant-governor Stephen Point (Skowkale First Nation), retired judge and hereditary chief Alfred Scow (Kwicksutaineuk First Nation), Chief Kim Baird (Tsawwassen First Nation), Grand Chief Ed John (Tl’azt’en First Nation), the late Métis scholar and activist Howard Adams, and retired Senator Leonard Marchand (Okanagan First Nation).

For UBC’s more than 500 Aboriginal students, the First Nations Longhouse is a “home away from home” where students can study and learn in a surrounding that reflects Aboriginal traditions and cultures. A recipient of the Governor-General’s award for architecture (Larry McFarland Architects), it includes a Great Hall, Xwi7xwa Library, a computer lab, counselling, advising, and other student resources. It houses the First Nations Students Association and a variety of programs aimed at burgeoning Aboriginal leaders and scientists.

Vedan, a professor in UBC’s School of Social Work and Family Studies who will step down as FNHL director on June 30, says despite progress, there is still much needed to improve Aboriginal participation in post-secondary education, which currently sits at one-fifth the Canadian average.

To that end, FNLH supports a number of programs for Aboriginal students in elementary and high schools designed to promote literacy, numeracy, and ultimately, university. One of these is CEDAR (Cross-cultural Education through Demonstration, Action and Recreation), a Faculty of Science outreach program in which UBC students and faculty teach Aboriginal youth about science, agriculture, forestry and the arts through hands-on activities and events at UBC.

To celebrate FNHL’s 20th Anniversary, a series of public events will be held March 14-15, including a Director’s Panel, a keynote address by Indian and Northern Affairs treaty negotiator Darrel McLeod and an Aboriginal graduate research symposium entitled Ways of Being in the Academy. For more information, visit www.longhouse.ubc.ca.