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Verna Kirkness: Recalling the birth of the Ts”kel Program



Verna Kirkness

When I recently learned about UBC’s new Master of Education in Indigenous Education I was delighted, as it brought back fond memories from 38 years ago (1984) when First Nations students were provided their first opportunity to pursue a Master of Education with First Nations content.

As it happened, NITEP graduate, Sharon Mack, who was teaching at the time, told me there was a need for advanced education so First Nations educators could take advantage of opportunities to become school principals.

The then Department of Educational Administration was approached and the director was in favour modifying a current program. This saw a couple of existing courses modified to be culturally responsive and taken with the remainder of the regular program, along with a new foundation course. Back then, the only programs that had a cultural component were the Native Law Program and the Native Indian Teacher Education Program (NITEP).

One of the modified courses was Administering a Band School, which was based on the existing Administering a Public School course. Curriculum preparation saw myself and two professors traveling to various Band schools to identify materials for the new course.

The other modified course was an Independent Study, which was designed as a field placement. This saw teachers who were teaching in a Band school being assigned to an urban school and vice versa, those who were in public schools were assigned to a Band school.

The program also included a special research methods seminar as a foundation course, which I taught. It covered the history of Indigenous education, the prevailing philosophies and cultural antecedents of Indigenous education in Canada.

The modified program started modestly enough with three students: Ethel Gardner and Frances Johnson from B.C. and Shirley Myran from Manitoba. Happily, they all graduated with their Master of Education in Educational Administration, having passed with straight A’s.

The years that followed saw an ever-increasing number of First Nations students enrolled in the program, such that by the time the First Nations Longhouse was built in 1993, there were a total of 25 graduates, three of whom were doctoral students who had taken our modified courses.

The program was named Ts”kel by the first group of students, which is a Stó:lō or Hal’qemeylem name meaning Golden Eagle.

The program has been offered for many years now and for First Nations communities it represents a breakthrough in graduate studies in the field of Indigenous-centred educational training.

I am very proud of those graduates who indeed became principals and administrators, many of whom went onto PhDs. Moreover, the Faculty’s director of educational administration at the time, Dr. Lorne Downey, was so impressed with the program that he wrote a book about it, The Ts”kel Story, which can be found in Xwi7xwa Library.

Verna Kirkness is the founding director of the First Nations House of Learning at UBC, serving from 1987 to 1993. During this time, she led a successful fundraising campaign to build the First Nations Longhouse, an important gathering place for Indigenous students. The Longhouse opened in 1993.

The post Verna Kirkness: Recalling the birth of the Ts”kel Program appeared first on Indigenous Portal.

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Indigenous Graduation Celebration Spring 2023




Indigenous Graduation Celebration Fall 2022 participants
Photo: Martin Dee

On Saturday, June 3rd, the First Nations House of Learning is hosting a graduation celebration at the First Nations Longhouse to honour participating Indigenous students from the Spring 2023 class.

Longhouse Ceremonial Door

This event will see Indigenous students walking through the Longhouse’s ceremonial door into Sty-Wet-Tan Great Hall, whereupon each will be acknowledged by a gathering of families and supporters as having transformed from student to graduate.

Afterward, each graduate will be recognized for completing their academic programs and be given the opportunity to thank their supporters.

Related: Indigenous Graduation Celebration Fall 2022

Like previous events, the celebration will be streamed live for the benefit of family, friends and supporters who are unable to attend. The event recording will be posted on this page afterward for later viewing.

Webcast recording:

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Dr. Eduardo Jovel appointed interim Director of the First Nations House of Learning



Dr. Eduardo Jovel

The following message was originally issued by Prof. Andrew Szeri, Provost and Vice-President, Academic, UBC Vancouver.

Dr. Eduardo Jovel has been appointed as the Interim Director of the First Nations House of Learning, effective December 1, 2021. He joins FNHL at this time while Dr. Margaret Moss, Associate Professor, UBC School of Nursing, and Director, First Nations House of Learning, temporarily steps into the role of interim Associate Vice-President, Equity and Inclusion.

“I am humbled and excited to serve as the Interim Director of the First Nations House of Learning,” Dr. Jovel said. “I believe it is an opportunity to reciprocate the kindness, support, and guidance that I’ve received from the Indigenous community over almost three decades.

“At this particular time, I see the ISP as providing UBC with a strong pathway for institutional change grounded on responsive, reciprocal, and respectful relations with Indigenous people, particularly with xʷməθkʷəy̓əm.

“Incorporating Indigenous knowledge, protocols, and culture is fundamental to enhancing the students’ experience at UBC, and necessary to improve Indigenous health and wellness, and acknowledge Indigenous people’s rights and self-determination. And so, I look forward to contributing to the collective efforts and commitments of the University to build a successful future for Indigenous people.”

“Dr. Jovel will be a wonderful fit as Interim Director, as he is a frequent presence at the Longhouse and is familiar with the staff and students there, including FNHL programming,” Dr. Margaret Moss said. “I have no doubt that FNHL will prosper under his leadership.”

Please join us in welcoming Dr. Jovel to his new role.


Eduardo Jovel, Ph.D., whose traditional name is Itz Cohuatl, is an Indigenous scholar of Pipil and Mayan ancestry. He completed his Master’s and Ph.D. at the University of British Columbia.

Dr. Jovel is an Associate Professor and Director of the Indigenous Research Partnerships, Faculty of Land and Food Systems, UBC. His academic training includes Ethnobotany, Mycology, and Natural Products Chemistry. His research intersects with Indigenous Health and Wellness, Indigenous land-based Education, Gender, Research Ethics, and Indigenous food sovereignty.

He is former Director of the UBC Institute for Aboriginal Health and the founder and Director of xwc̓ic̓əsəm Garden at UBC Farm, focusing on restoring community leadership on self-determined land-based education and research, and, respectfully, mobilization of Indigenous knowledge.

Dr. Jovel has worked with Indigenous people in Peru, Ecuador, the United States, New Zealand, Mexico, and Canada.

Over the last 18 years, Dr. Jovel has been a leader in building Indigenous research capacity and networks in BC and Canada, including the BC Aboriginal Capacity and Developmental Research Environments (ACADRE), the Network Environment for Aboriginal Health Research BC and Yukon Territory (NEAHRBCYT), and the Network Environments for Indigenous Health BC (NEARBC).


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New Master of Education in Indigenous Education launched



Image: ʔəlqsən (hən̓q̓əmin̓əm̓ word for ‘point of land’) art installation: yə́χʷəleʔ (eagle) panel with sce:ɬtən (salmon) and sθəqəy̓ (sockeye) | Artist: Brent Sparrow, Musqueam | UBC Vancouver

UBC Faculty of Education will be home to British Columbia’s first Master of Education in Indigenous Education, after receiving approval from the Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Training.

To offer a new degree program, public post-secondary institutions in British Columbia must apply to the Ministry in accordance with the Degree Program Review Criteria and Guidelines established by the Minister of Advanced Education and Skills Training. Each application is posted for peer and public review for 30 days and assessed as to whether it meets criteria related to the institution’s mandate and strategic plan, system consultation and coordination, labour market need and student demand.

“We’re committed to reconciliation and advancing systemic change so that post-secondary education and training is respectful, relevant, responsive, and receptive to Indigenous learners, institutes and communities. UBC’s new Master of Education in Indigenous Education will provide culturally responsive education for Indigenous learners, help deepen non-Indigenous learners’ understanding of Indigenous culture, and build the capacity of Indigenous schools, institutes and communities, helping to advance that deep commitment to reconciliation through education,” Honourable Anne Kang, Minister of Advanced Education and Skills Training said.

The program will help fulfill some of the important goals and actions set out in UBC’s strategic plan, Shaping UBC’s Next Century, the Faculty’s strategic plan, Learning Transformed, and UBC’s Indigenous Strategic Plan, which provide the framework for Faculty and unit-level commitments that form UBC’s response to the Calls to Action released with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s Final Report.

Recognizing the need for transformative change in Indigenous education, the program will:

Increase access to graduate education for Indigenous learners, while building educational capacity for Indigenous schools and communities
Enhance partnerships with Indigenous communities and offer Indigenous worldviews as Indigenous scholars and local Elders will be invited to partner with instructors
Provide educators with Indigenous knowledge they can bring to educational settings
Advance the Office of the Auditor General of British Columbia’s report on Indigenous education which recommends more policy and curriculum leadership from the Ministry of Education
Support the British Columbia Teachers’ Council 9th professional standard for educators to contribute to truth, reconciliation and healing, and foster a deeper understanding of Indigenous ways of knowing and being, histories, and cultures

“I’m delighted that this new degree program — the first of its kind in BC— has obtained Ministerial approval, in recognition of the Faculty of Education’s reputation as a leader in Indigenous education. The addition of this unique program conveys our commitment, as a university, to reconciliation and aims to contribute to improved educational outcomes for Indigenous students across BC.” – Dr. Andrew Szeri, VP Academic and Provost, University of British Columbia, said.

The program will be designed for educators, educational administrators and leaders, Indigenous community members, and other professionals in education settings who want in-depth preparation on K-12 Indigenous educational frameworks, theories, policies, curricular approaches, and community relationships that build upon Indigenous knowledge systems. It will also support educators implementing the revised provincial K-12 curriculum, emphasizing Indigenous worldviews, histories, and pedagogies through the First Peoples Principles of Learning (FPPL). Course enrollees will be offered opportunities through course goals, objectives, activities, content, and assessment to learn how Indigenous knowledges can be incorporated into practice.

“Largely taught by Indigenous scholars, this program will provide leadership opportunities for Indigenous educators, as well as schools and districts. It will create pathways to graduate education for Indigenous and ally educators, and build their knowledge and capacity to respond to changing policy demands,” Dr. Jan Hare, Dean pro tem, Faculty of Education, University of British Columbia, said.

Offered as a blended learning model, the program will begin with week-long in-person summer institutes, followed by online courses during the academic year. The hybrid coursework will accommodate full-time educators (offered on a part-time basis, with required courses offered on weekends), increase access to graduate studies for Indigenous learners from communities beyond the lower mainland of British Columbia, and reduce the amount of time Indigenous learners will have to leave their communities to complete their graduate studies. Additionally, the summer institutes will focus on land and place-based learning, offering intensive experiential lessons which learners can link to the curriculum in British Columbia.

Offered as a cohort model, the program will be delivered cooperatively by the Faculty’s Department of Language and Literacy Education, Department of Educational Studies, and Department of Curriculum and Pedagogy. Leadership and administrative support will be provided by the Faculty’s Office of Indigenous Education.


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