Volume 24, Number 1
"Thunderbird and Man"
by Charles Elliott
Mike McNeney, editor
IN 1854, CHIEF SEATTLE SAID THAT “THERE IS
NO DEATH, ONLY A CHANGE of worlds.” If you
believe those words to be true then imagine how
many worlds must exist on the lands now occupied
by the university campus. In this place—in
the heart of Coast Salish territory—how many
memories and how many generations echo in the plants
and soil? How many spirits come from across the
water, with the wind?
It is often easy to overlook the traditions of those
who were here before. Maybe that’s partly
because the standard university structure of learning
is so much different from the way knowledge is traditionally
passed along in aboriginal cultures. The post-secondary
structure encourages open debate and critical thinking.
But many aboriginal students, particularly those
from traditional backgrounds, are raised to listen
rather than question. To challenge the word of others,
especially elders, is disrespectful. This is the
sort of cultural issue that—along with the
challenges that face all university students—many
aboriginal students encounter.
Only two decades ago, the university’s aboriginal
students were an extreme minority—less than
a dozen. The city and the school were sometimes
perceived to be too English, an unwelcome environment
to students who often came from remote communities.
Things are evolving though, and now 250 aboriginal
students study at UVic. They are still a small minority.
Yet the fact they have made it is a credit to their
strength and ability to beat the odds, considering
that in Canada, the drop-out rate among aboriginal
students from kindergarten to Grade 12 is between
60 and 70 per cent. Tragic, but better than the
95 per cent drop-out rate common from 1950-80.
Aboriginal students at UVic are supported by a contingent
of aboriginal advisors, counsellors, staff, faculty
and specialized programs of study. As well, the
university has made it a priority to increase aboriginal
enrollment while diversifying curricula and teaching
methods to accommodate aboriginal traditions and
values. Planning is also under way to build a First
Nations House for learning, solitude and healing.
This issue’s cover feature is about a form
of healing. I first heard about Gloria Frank when
a research paper of hers captured my attention.
But by the time I caught up to her, she had moved
on to something much deeper and more important.
At the core, her story is about perseverance and
will. It is about the triumph and empowerment that
an educational experience can spark. Like a vision
in a dream later emerging in reality, it can cause
a person to be transformed. Perceptions change,
self-awareness changes, and the past and present
become connected in bright new ways.
The days of the season are getting colder now, the
nights longer and we are near the time of the Winter
Dance—the private, almost secretive ritual
gatherings staged by the Coast Salish (and other
tribal groups) to celebrate the time of year when
supernatural ancestral energy returns from the mountains.
At the ceremonies, when young people are gathered,
the speaker might rise in the Big House to say in
the Halkomelem language “Qwam Qwum Tun Shqwalawn”—make
your mind strong. And he might remind them to gather
the best from both worlds—the one of their
ancestry and the one offered by the university.
It is a place where they—we—are not
alone. It’s a place that, in the words of
Chief Seattle, does “throng with returning
hosts that once filled and still love this beautiful
In April, everyone involved in
producing the Torch was honoured to receive from
the Canadian Council for the Advancement of Education
a silver medal for the best magazine among the
smaller budget publications of the country’s
universities. We are grateful for the award and
delighted by the judges’ decision as we
continue to strive for a magazine that uniquely
reflects the quality of the university and its
The Seven Flames editor's column is named
for the seven flames of the torch in the university's
coat of arms.
© 2006 UVic Communications
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