When Chelsea Gladstone walks across the convocation stage to collect her diploma in May, she’ll become the first member of her family to graduate from university. She’ll also be doing it as UBC’s first Lieutenant Governor Medal winner, in recognition of her work in supporting and empowering Indigenous students on campus.
The 21-year-old fourth-year arts student, who is also a Wesbrook scholar and Premier’s Undergraduate Scholarship recipient, is graduating with a double major in First Nations Indigenous Studies and Gender, Race, Sexuality and Social Justice. She grew up with her five siblings in the close-knit Haida community of Skidegate, in Haida Gwaii, where her father, who is Haida and her mother, who is English, Scottish and Mi’kmaq, ensured she was steeped in the cultural traditions of her ancestors.
“I’ve been grounded in my culture from a very young age,” says Gladstone, whose Haida name, Xanjuu Gwang, translates as “traveling around.”
“I learned how to Haida sing and dance from the time I could walk and talk.”
When she arrived at UBC, it was only natural for Gladstone to continue deepening her connection to Indigenous culture. A collaborator of the AMS Indigenous Committee and a peer advisor for Aboriginal Student Affairs, Gladstone is the facilitator for the UBC Indigenous Leadership Collective. The collective, which was created two years ago, provides Indigenous students with opportunities to develop their leadership skills, get involved in cultural events and engage in advocacy work.
“We all come from unique backgrounds,” says Gladstone, “and the one thing that brings us together is our experience with colonialism. We work to create a positive environment where we can talk about these experiences, and address them proactively.”
Benjamin Cheung, a lecturer in the department of psychology and a member of the selection committee for the Lieutenant General Medal, said Gladstone was a natural recipient for the award. “Chelsea has dedicated herself to empowering Indigenous students on campus by creating opportunities for Indigenous students to form community, take pride in their culture and identity, and exercise their power,” he said. “This will positively impact both the university and Canadian society for years to come.”
After graduation, Gladstone plans to continue her advocacy work as a lawyer. She’ll be writing the LSAT this summer, and hopes to begin studying at the Peter A. Allard School of Law in 2020.
Even with all her accomplishments, Gladstone says she was surprised to be recognized—but she is embracing the opportunity to serve as a role model.
“This award allows me to show other Indigenous students on campus that you can study at UBC with your Indigenous world-view, and do things that align with your Indigenous perspective, and be recognized,” she says.
The Lieutenant Governor’s medal program was established in 1979 to recognize students enrolled in vocational and career programs less than two years long at public post-secondary institutions in B.C. Starting this year, the award also recognizes B.C. public post-secondary students in two-year diploma programs and four-year undergraduate programs.