Today’s graduates have great potential to realize a collective responsibility and leave a legacy of hope for future Canadians, said Rebecca Jamieson, President and CEO of Six Nations Polytechnic, a centre of excellence for Indigenous community-based learning at the postsecondary level.
“Accept this responsibility to build positive relationships with Aboriginal people in Canada,” she added, noting the calls to action within the recent report by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.
Jamieson spoke to graduates from the School of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies, as well as the faculties of Arts & Humanities, Education, Information and Media Studies, Law, Science, Social Science and the Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry, at the Friday, Oct. 23, afternoon session of Western’s 306th Convocation.
Western conferred an honorary Doctor of Laws (LLD) upon Jamieson in recognition of her exemplary leadership in Aboriginal education.
Jamieson, Tuscarora, Eel Clan, was born in Michigan and moved to the Grand River Territory when she was 2 years old. Her educational background includes a Native Social Counsellor Certificate from the University of Toronto; an Ontario Teacher Certificate from the Ontario Teacher Education College in Hamilton; a BA in Psychology and Philosophy from Wilfrid Laurier University; a Master of Education degree, as well as course work of a doctoral degree completed, at the University of Toronto.
For decades, Indigenous peoples in Canada have lived with a long shadow cast by residential schools. The education of Aboriginal children was aimed at assimilation, something that still resonated in the 1960s when Jamieson joined an experimental program at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, where she and fellow students began developing a vision for Aboriginal education that would realize Aboriginal values.
“My reality was never reflected in any of the texts and images we studied. We were never talked about. I concluded what I was being taught in school and being graded on mattered and what I was experiencing in my life and at home did not matter,” she said.
Jamieson started out as a postsecondary social counsellor with Six Nations, after which she became a teacher, consultant, and Director of Student Services & Counselling with the Grand River Post Secondary Education Office. In 2009, she was appointed President and CEO of Six Nations Polytechnic.
A founding member of Grand River Polytechnic Institute, now Six Nations Polytechnic, Jamieson saw the school grow from its beginnings twenty-two years ago with a class of twelve students, into one of the leading Aboriginal Institutes in Ontario.
Honoured with the Order of Ontario, Jamieson has been actively involved in public post-secondary education during her accomplished career, serving as the first Executive Director of the College Standards and Accreditation Council, and on the Board of Governors for several Ontario universities, as well as Mohawk College.
Challenges and opportunities lie ahead when it comes to building a future of hope, Jamieson said to the graduates. Working with others to ensure distinct people can coexist in respectful peace is a daily duty for all.
All things, all people have a role, she said. We must consider the impact of our actions for generations to come. We must appreciate the independence and interdependence of all things and work to maintain a planet that is capable of sustaining all life. If we don’t work together towards this end, an imbalance will foster an unjust world for all.
“Do what you can to restore that balance necessary for life and hope,” she said.
In his citation, John Doerksen, Vice-Provost (Academic Programs), praised Jamieson’s outstanding and dedicated leadership in advancing Aboriginal education in Canada.
“With its Indigenous Knowledge Centre, Six Nations Polytechnic has become a critical link in preserving and cultivating Aboriginal language and culture. Research is affirming and further revitalizing oral traditions and ceremonial practices, and a virtual archive is being developed for researchers in the future. Ms. Jamieson has cultivated many partnerships with universities and colleges, including Western, and her leadership benefits not only Aboriginal communities but enriches us all,” he said.
Also during the ceremony, the Marilyn Robinson Award for Excellence in Teaching was presented to Classical Studies Professor Elisabeth Greene.