Vancouver Island University president Deborah Saucier watches as members of the Snuneymuxw First Nation perform a dance during her installation ceremony at the Snuneymuxw’s Longhouse on Friday. (Nicholas Pescod/NEWS BULLETIN)

New VIU president sworn in at ceremony at Snuneymuxw Longhouse

Deborah Saucier says VIU is committed to inclusion and reconciliation with indigenous peoples

When the new president of Nanaimo’s only university was sworn in on Friday, history was made.

Deborah Saucier, Vancouver Island University’s new president, took an oath and was officially sworn in during an installation ceremony at the Snuneymuxw Longhouse on Friday.

It’s the first time that a VIU president has had an installation ceremony at the longhouse, according to university officials.

Saucier, who is Métis, told the audience she was “humbled” and honoured to have her installation ceremony at the longhouse. As VIU president, Saucier said the institution will continue to develop innovative programs that will allow students to flourish on and off-campus.

“We will do more to allow our students to thrive and have a good life,” she said.

RELATED: Vancouver Island University names next president

In her speech, Saucier also said there is a commonly held belief that the best universities are the ones that are exclusive. She said excellent universities shouldn’t be defined by how many people they exclude.

“What if we turned [that notion] on its head and thought instead that excellent universities were those that invited everyone in? That excellence was defined by how well members of our community succeeded not by how many were weeded out,” she said. “It’s kind of a radical idea isn’t it? To turn a university on its head and to define excellence as inclusion and success and VIU is that kind of university.

“We are committed to inclusion and promoting the success of our people, our communities and the nations that we serve, which is why I think VIU is a different kind of university.”

Saucier also touched on the importance of ensuring indigenous people have better access to education at VIU.

“Education is the key to a good life and at the heart of what indigenous peoples are asking for,” she said. “The nations understand the power of education to transform their peoples.”

RELATED: VIU’s next president starts making connections on campus

Many indigenous people have “good reasons” to distrust educational institutions, Saucier explained, adding that she will listen and ensure that VIU continues to develop programming in a respectful way that meets their needs.

“I commit to you that I will listen hard to what is said and to the silence between the words, to what is not said,” Saucier said. “To continue the conversation with the nations about what their needs are and how to meet them.”

Makenzie Leine, VIU’s chair of the board of governors, called Friday’s ceremony a momentous occasion, adding that Saucier is “likely the first president to ever be installed” in a longhouse. She said Saucier is a highly skilled and qualified leader who has the vision to move the university forward.

“Saucier’s accomplishments are impressive,” Leine said, later adding. “She is a brilliant scientist and an experienced leader. She’s also caring, empathetic, open-minded, big-hearted and a curious person who is a strong community builder.”

Saucier was hired earlier this year to replace then-president Ralph Nilson. 
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