UBC’s Okanagan campus, together with the Okanagan Nation Alliance (ONA) have formally renewed their commitment to their ongoing relationship through a signing of their memorandum of understanding (MOU).
UBC Okanagan was established in 2005 in close collaboration with the Syilx Okanagan Nation and these long-standing relationships have been foundational to the campus’ academic mission. At the heart of this relationship is the MOU with the Okanagan Nation Alliance, which formalizes the importance, opportunities and benefits of higher education for Indigenous People of the Southern Interior.
Chief Clarence Louie, Tribal Chair of the Okanagan Nation Alliance, says that the close partnership forged and cultivated with UBCO since its inception is deeply valued by the ONA and the communities it represents.
“The educational and research opportunities that are made possible by this collaboration, both for and by our communities, are vital for the long-term vibrancy and prosperity of us all. Importantly, this document places respect for Indigenous Peoples and their lands at the forefront of our collective actions and ensures that we are working together on the innovations and understandings that will shape our region and the world for years to come.”
Dr. Lesley Cormack, Principal and Deputy Vice-Chancellor for UBC Okanagan, says that the relationship is cherished equally by the university community.
“When I first arrived at UBCO three years ago, it was immediately clear how special the bonds with the Okanagan Nation are and why they are seen as central to UBCO’s identity,” says Dr. Cormack. “The MOU that we’ve renewed helps to define and guide that relationship, but the true extent of our connections stretches far beyond just words on a page.”
Above all, Dr. Cormack says, UBC is immensely grateful for the Okanagan Nation’s welcome of the university to its territory.
While the signing of the MOU is an important symbolic step in formalizing this relationship, the document has helped set a framework for recent accomplishments between the two parties.
The university has worked closely with the ONA to create bilingual wayfinding signs in English and Nsyilxcən on campus, to co-host the One River Ethics Matter conference, and to support cooperative research efforts in areas like watershed management and ecosystem sustainability.
“Perhaps most notably, we worked with the En’owkin Centre, to develop and deliver Indigenous language fluency programs, including the Nsyilxcən language fluency degree, whose first graduates we all celebrated this past June,” says Dr. Cormack. “This was the first program of its kind in Canada and, together, we led the way for other Indigenous language revitalization efforts throughout the province and country.”
She adds that these successes have been made possible by the strength of UBCO’s relationship with the ONA.
“I am honoured to represent the university as we recommit to our partnership and I look forward to the many great things we can accomplish in the years ahead as friends, neighbours and partners.”
The agreement was signed in person on Wednesday, October 4 by Chief Louie and Dr. Cormack as part of the ONA’s Annual General Assembly. The agreement is also signed by Interim UBC President Dr. Deborah Buszard.