I started a position as Director of Communications and Public Relations at Vancouver Island University a couple of weeks ago.
My brain is full keeping up with new names, positions, regional politics, social landscapes, local business leaders, now also cross-Canada partners, colleagues from other regional universities, and international linkages. It’s incredible how much VIU punches above its weight.
But what makes all this whirlwind/learning curve so worthwhile is that my heart is full as well, and I am learning – learning deeply. Coming from Saskatchewan, and having experience with (and friends within) treaty first nations, it never really hit me until now that most BC land is completely unceded. They’re not just words you write them in a speech (which I have been doing ever since I moved to the west coast: “I acknowledge we’re on the traditional territory of the Coast Salish people [or insert appropriate first nations here]” – it’s in the boilerplate). They mean something. The west coast land we all live on, the real estate we buy and sell, was never handed over, relinquished, or surrendered in any way.
That realization has dawned on me since coming to VIU two weeks ago, as I learned about the relationships VIU has with First Nations on the island, and the meaningful steps we have taken in aboriginal education. Then yesterday Elder Geraldine Manson gave a welcome as we opened the Health and Wellness centre on campus yesterday. In her remarks she said “Each and every person who sets foot on this ground is sacred.”
With my new, deeper understanding of what that word “unceded” means, Geraldine’s gentle, unreserved, and very genuine welcome transformed me so much I am still tearing up a day later thinking about it. I am so grateful to have her permission to do my work at VIU.
I’ve been welcomed so warmly by everyone at VIU, in Nanaimo, in Parksville and Qualicum (I have yet to visit our Cowichan and Powell River campuses), from board of governors members, members of university senate, my colleagues in senior management, my colleagues in my department, all other staff in University Relations. Most of all to my president, and to the man whose shoes I can only partly fill as I take over so he can go on parental leave. President Ralph Nilson is a leader in the true sense of the word, and Dan Hurley set me up for as smooth a transition as he possibly could given the sheer volume of work there is to be done as a post-secondary administrator. Their confidence in me is heartening and inspiring.
Welcomed? Yes, I feel very welcomed at VIU, in the deepest sense of the word. I’m very glad to be here.