Wanosts’a7 Lorna Williams, Lil’watul from Mount Currie BC, will be honoured with a 2018 Indspire Award for her contributions to Indigenous education. The University of Victoria Professor Emerita of Indigenous education (Curriculum and Instruction) has been living and breathing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action on education and language since before the TRC was ever imagined. She built her career at UVic on the principle that quality education for Indigenous children must be characterized by strong cultural teachings alongside a Euro-Western education.
The Indspire Awards represent the highest honour the Indigenous community bestows upon its own people.
Working with UVic’s Faculty of Education and the Department of Linguistics, Williams co-designed the development of three degree programs in collaboration with Indigenous communities: the bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Indigenous Language Revitalization, and the Counseling in Indigenous Communities master’s degree program. She served as Canada Research Chair in Education and Linguistics at UVic and as the first director of Aboriginal Education. She also co-chaired the Task Force on Aboriginal Education, which led to the requirement that all teacher education programs in British Columbia include an Indigenous education course.
“At UVic, we created an inclusive learning environment,” Williams says. “I am most pleased to have demonstrated that a university can create an open space for Indigenous knowledge learning and languages.”
She says she still hears from former students who tell her about ways in which they have incorporated their classroom learnings into their own teaching, and faculty members tell her how they use Indigenous principles of teaching and learning in the development and teaching of their own courses.
Williams says also she sees the tangible impacts of the degree programs on communities where their graduates now work: “People are much more focused, creative and inventive in their approach to language revitalization,” she says. The next step is to develop a PhD program and share the student’s work with the world. “It’s a tremendous help to other Indigenous peoples in the world who are striving to do the same.”
Due to the legacy of colonization in the formation of Canada, Indigenous people’s knowledges, languages, histories, identities and lifeways have been designed to be invisible and education as an institution has been the primary social tool used to eradicate Indigenous languages, knowledge and identity from existence,” says Williams. “If education can be so destructive it can also serve to reverse the destruction.”
In 2017, Williams co-authored Braiding Indigenous Science with Western Science, Book 1 along with Gloria Snively, to support the indigenization of science curriculum. “The book showcases the work of our graduate students in Indigenous knowledge and serves to help teachers learn about Indigenous knowledges in the world of science.” The second book in the series will be published later this year.
Williams recovered her lost Lil’wat language with the help of Elders in her community and became an English interpreter and guide for the creation of a writing system. “I use everything I’ve had the privilege of learning throughout my life in everything I do,” she says.
Williams will receive her Indspire award on March 23 in Winnipeg. Now in its 25th year, the Indspire Awards have honoured 350 First Nations, Inuit, and Métis individuals who demonstrate outstanding achievement.