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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 Community Holiday Craft Fair 2023




Drop by the First Nations Longhouse and support Indigenous artists and makers.

The First Nations House of Learning is hosting an Indigenous Community Holiday Craft Fair on Thursday, December 7th, from 3–5pm at Sty-Wet-Tan Great Hall.

The UBC community is invited to attend this exciting fair, which celebrates Indigenous art and craftspersonship. Indigenous students, faculty, staff, and community members will be displaying and selling their art and handmade crafts, which include original art pieces, small leather goods, beaded jewelry and accessories, and other exciting wares.

Call for Vendors

Indigenous students, faculty, and staff are encouraged to come out, showcase, and sell their unique crafts and wares. Complete this registration form to reserve a table today. Participation is free for vendors.

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Date & Time: Thursday, December 7, 3–5pm
Location: Sty-Wet-Tan Great Hall, First Nations Longhouse


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Statement from UBC First Nations House of Learning Leadership




Joely Viveiros

We wish to address recent concerns regarding Buffy Sainte-Marie and her claimed Indigenous identity. We recognize and acknowledge the deep sadness, hurt, anger, and array of emotions that Indigenous people may be experiencing in the wake of these allegations.

To the Indigenous students, faculty, staff and community members at UBC: we stand and walk alongside you.

Sainte-Marie was granted an honorary degree from UBC in 2012. Members of our community have asked if the University will rescind her honorary degree due to recent events.

We believe the priority is to provide time for Indigenous communities to process and come to terms with the news. The University will work collaboratively and closely with Indigenous leadership, faculty, partners, communities and local First Nations to determine next steps relating to this honorary degree.

While this process gets underway, our priority first and foremost is the wellbeing of the Indigenous community at UBC.

To that end, we encourage Indigenous students impacted by this news to utilize the UBC support services, including off-campus Indigenous and community organizations. For UBC employees, we encourage you to reach out to your support networks, including support services provided as part of your employee benefits, or to off-campus ones. Please see the list below for corresponding links.


Joely Viveiros
Acting Director and Associate Director, First Nations House of Learning, UBC Vancouver

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UBC Vancouver Student Supports

The Indigenous Mental Health and Wellbeing program aims to provide culturally safe mental health and support services, including offering individual sessions at the Longhouse. More information can be found here:
The Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Centre hosts wellness drop-ins every second Wednesday, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., in the Elders’ lounge on the upper level of the Centre. Indigenous students, staff, faculty and community members are invited to drop-in to the Centre for tea or coffee and conversation with a Cultural Support Worker. More information can be found here:
Information on general health and wellbeing support services available at UBC Vancouver can be found here:

UBC Faculty and Staff Supports

Faculty and Staff Mental Health Resources:
Helping Faculty and Staff in Distress:
Employee and Family Assistance Program:

Off-Campus Supports

Outside of UBC, Indigenous people in B.C. can access culturally safe mental health and wellbeing resources from Canada-wide programs like Hope for Wellness, or through programs from the First Nations Health Authority, and Métis Nation BC.
There are also crisis and support lines, including the KUU-US Indigenous Crisis Line and the Indian Residential School Crisis Line, which can be reached at 1-866-925-4419.
The Sixties Scoop Network and Sixties Scoop Healing Foundation also offer support and resources for survivors of the Sixties Scoop and their families.


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Indigenous Graduation Celebration Fall 2023




Participating graduates at UBC’s Indigenous Graduation Celebration Spring 2023.
Photo supplied by the First Nations House of Learning.

On Saturday, November 25th, the First Nations House of Learning is hosting a graduation celebration at the First Nations Longhouse to honour participating Indigenous graduates from the Fall Class of 2023.

Longhouse Ceremonial Door

This event sees Indigenous students invited into Sty-Wet-Tan Great Hall through a ceremonial door, whereupon each is individually acknowledged by a gathering of families and supporters as having transformed from student to graduate.

Afterward, each graduate is stood up and recognized for completing their academic program and is given the opportunity to thank their supporters.

The keynote speaker for the event is TBD.

Related: Indigenous Graduation Celebration Spring 2023

Like previous events, the celebration will be streamed live for the benefit of family, friends and supporters who are unable to attend.


To be posted

Event Program

To be posted


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