Westbank First Nation (WFN) is recognizing the efforts of Okanagan College’s president Jim Hamilton in supporting Indigenous students’ access to higher learning, Indigenizing the Okanagan post-secondary system, and strengthening ties between the nation and the college.
Hamilton was honoured in a traditional blanket ceremony, which was held virtually on Dec. 10.
“The blanket ceremony is our highest honour,” Westbank First Nation Chief Christopher Derickson said.
“It signifies our community’s tremendous respect for the recipient. It is seldom an honour accorded to someone outside the nation.”
Derickson added WFN wanted to honour Hamilton for the work he has done, which shows his commitment towards reconciliation.
“Long before the narrative around ‘reconciliation’ became fashionable, Jim was leading Okanagan College and encouraging provincial and national colleagues and organizations to realize that meaningful change was needed. I know firsthand that what Jim was advocating behind closed doors was identical to what he was saying and promoting publicly.”
The Pendleton blanket presented to Hamilton portrays a coyote howling at the sky, a grizzly bear fishing and also has pictographs of an eagle and a Kokanee skeleton, which symbolize the cycle of life and death, according to WFN. Each corner of the blanket has a WFN logo, which features a grizzly pawprint with a coyote silhouette in the middle and a serpent in the waves underneath.
Hamilton said the ceremony was a surprise and he feels very honoured.
“I am… greatly humbled by this unexpected recognition. I know how meaningful it is and could not be more grateful that Westbank First Nation considered me worthy,” he said
Hamilton began embracing a reconciliatory rethink of recognizing Indigenous communities served by the college, in the aftermath of the establishment of UBC Okanagan in 2005.
First Nations flags fly at OC campuses and are what Hamilton calls a powerful symbolic message to the people of the Okanagan and Shuswap Indigenous communities that they are welcome on any college campus.
Hamilton is set to retire from his position next summer.