Vancouver Island University entered a new era as its third chancellor officially took on the role Thursday.
Judith Sayers was sworn in at a virtual ceremony and one of her goals, she said, was to make the university innovative and where all can excel regardless of background or financial situation.
“Historically, many Indigenous students have struggled in university. Struggled to belong, struggled to feel safe and they have many issues facing them in university including racism, bias and not being able to do their research in the way they want to,” said Sayers in the press release. “Education is about learning to think, to communicate, to write and it’s how we participate in the world that we establish. We need to encourage more students to come into the university. We need to make it a place where they want to come.”
Sayers, also Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council president, saw her ceremony held outdoors, with Snuneymuxw First Nation members and councillors present. Sayers has a long history of advocating for Indigenous rights and sustainable development, said the press release. In coming to a decision on whether to accept the role, Sayers said VIU’s relationships with First Nations were a major factor.
“In this day and age of reconciliation, VIU has a critical role to play and make positive changes,” she said. “Reconciliation is what Indigenous people want and we need to take their lead in what they see as reconciliation. I believe VIU is committed to reconciliation and can lead the way – as they already are.”
Deborah Saucier, VIU president, said she was pleased to have Sayers as part of the university.
“Her commitment to Indigenous rights and promoting capacity-building in First Nations communities directly aligns with and supports VIU’s goal to deepen mutual understanding and to co-create new, innovative partnerships and programming with local nations,” Saucier said in the press release.
The ceremonial attire worn by Sayers and Saucier was designed by Coast Salish fashion house Ay Lelum The Good House of Design, and was unveiled at the event.
“The president’s robe features sea serpents on the front – symbols of power and wisdom – and a supernatural eagle on the back, which symbolizes strength and wisdom,” said the press release. “The chancellor’s robe also features sea serpents on the front and on the back is a supernatural killer whale – designed to honour Sayers’s Nuu-chah-nulth heritage – and a supernatural eagle, figures that bring strength, power and vision.”
The B.C. Assembly of First Nations was happy with VIU’s selection of Sayers and congratulated both the chancellor and the university in a press release.
“I know together they will do good work to ensure that First Nations students thrive and are successful in fulfilling their goals and dreams,” said regional Chief Terry Teegee. “I encourage VIU to embrace Dr. Sayers’s innovative and extensive thought and knowledge and fully integrate First Nations education ideologies and research methodologies into their institution.”