A unique ceremony inducting the new chancellor of Vancouver Island University (VIU) while observing local Indigenous traditions and values is being described as a "powerful statement of reconciliation" by Snuneymuxw Coun. Emmy Manson.
A virtual ceremony broadcast Thursday welcomed Judith Sayers, president of the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council and former chief of the Hupacasath Nation, into a new role helping lead the Nanaimo post-secondary institution.
The ceremony took place on Snuneymuxw First Nation territory, following in the footsteps of university president Deborah Saucier, who was installed in the role in a Snuneymuxw longhouse when she took over in 2019, honouring local Indigenous values of respect, recognition and interconnectedness.
"It is only right and a good thing that we are installing our chancellor once again honouring and recognizing the important relationship between VIU and Snuneymuxw," Saucier said as she introduced Sayers.
Sayers, also known by her traditional name Kekinusuqs, was appointed last fall.
"My responsibility is to all the students, the faculty and employees at VIU," she said during the ceremony.
"I want to help build a university where everyone can belong and be equal, a place that is safe and can create a learning environment where everyone can learn."
She acknowledged the struggles — particularly racism — that Indigenous students have faced in post-secondary institutions.
"This has to change. In this day and age of reconciliation VIU has a critical role to play and make positive changes."
Part of the ceremony was the introduction of new ceremonial regalia created by Ay Lelum — The Good House of Design, a Coast Salish art company.
The regalia will be worn by Sayers and Saucier at convocation ceremonies.
Sea serpents on both robes symbolize power and wisdom. An orca adorns Sayers' robe to honour her Nuu-chah-nulth heritage.
Both robes also feature an eagle, representing strength and wisdom, power and vision.
Manson says these acts are all a form of reconciliation with the Snuneymuxw people.
"I also believe [reconciliation is] a job for us, an Indigenous community, to reconcile with ourselves, reconcile with our language, reconcile with our trauma and our pain, but reconcile with our joy," she said.
"We're awesome. And we need to remember that."
She said it's important for Indigenous people not to be tokens, but instead for their culture and knowledge to be woven into the institution.
Saucier said the introduction of Sayers to the university will help with this.
"Her commitment to Indigenous rights and promoting capacity-building in First Nations communities directly aligns with and supports VIU's goal to deepen mutual understanding and to co-create new, innovative partnerships and programming with local Nations," she said.