The Okanagan Nation Alliance and its member communities have renewed a memorandum of understanding with UB Okanagan to further aboriginal education at the Kelowna campus.
Since welcoming UBC in 2005, the Okanagan Nation has established a long-term relationship with the university. The memorandum of understanding with UBCO underlines the importance, opportunities and benefits of higher education for indigenous people of the Southern Interior, say local First Nation leaders.
ONA chairman Stewart Phillip, Grand Chief of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, said the bonds developed with UBC are very important to the Okanagan people.
“The renewal of the MOU continues to embrace the spirit and intent of the original signing which values distinct cultures, languages, territory, life-long excellence in learning and respect for Indigenous Peoples and their lands,” said Phillip in a news release.
At the ceremony, Deborah Buszard,deputy vice-chancellor and principal of UBC’s Okanagan campus, said the Okanagan people, their traditions, culture and future are essential to the university.
“We are honoured that UBC has been welcomed into the traditional territory of the Okanagan Nation, and are thankful that we have been so warmly embraced by the Aboriginal community,” she said.
“Renewing our agreement with the Okanagan Nation Alliance ensures that the opportunities for higher education will continue to be available to these First Nations of the Southern Interior. Our joint initiatives are dedicated to this goal and reflect the high value we put on our relationship.”
While she signed the agreement on behalf od the university Friday, Westbank First Nation Chief Robert Louie signed on behalf of the ONA. The ceremony took place in UBCO’s Aboriginal Centre on the Kelowna campus.
Louie said education is crucial for young people, especially aboriginal youth who are using that eduation to help their communities grow. He said education is the top priority for his council and it is something that starts from birth, as demonstrated by the success of the WFN’s child development centre.
Since the first agreement was signed between the ONA and UBCO in 2005, the number of aboriginal students at the university has grown to 300 from just 45. Buszard said the number today is more than four times the number the province currently funds the school for.
UBCO currently has a student body of close to 8,500 students.