Douglas White III Kwul’a’sul’tun learned how to fight at a young age.
Early on in life, he recognized that there is animosity in the world towards Indigenous peoples and issues. It highlighted for him the importance of learning to stand up for himself and others in different ways. White will be sharing his story during Vancouver Island University’s (VIU’s) fourth annual Indigenous Speakers Series on Monday, November 26. The annual event is a partnership between VIU and CBC Radio One’s Ideas.
“There’s important history in Nanaimo relating to the relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples, a history that started with the signing of the last Douglas treaty in 1854, which focused on recognition, respect and an equal partnership,” says White. “Then everything moved into a different mode in BC, with denial of these rights being the main thread. I grew up hearing these stories and the importance of fighting back.”
That’s why White, now Director of Vancouver Island University’s (VIU’s) Centre for Pre-Confederation Treaties and Reconciliation and a Snuneymuxw First Nation counsellor, went to VIU (then Malaspina University-College) to get his Bachelor of Arts in First Nations Studies, then to the Faculty of Law at the University of Victoria for his doctor of law degree. He used his education to become a strong advocate for his own First Nation and others across BC, including as Chief of the Snuneymuxw First Nation from December 2009 to February 2014, where he focused on implementing the Snuneymuxw Treaty of 1854.
This work culminated in the signing of the Snuneymuxw First Nation Reconciliation Agreement with the Crown in March 2013. That same day, a letter to the editor was published in the Nanaimo Daily News that expressed racist views towards Indigenous peoples.
“Reading it was like being punched in the stomach – it was intended to hurt and it did in a very deep way,” White says.
Within 24 hours, a protest was organized in the parking lot of the newspaper that was attended by both Indigenous and non-Indigenous leaders from across the Island.
“What mattered most to me was that people from the general public were there as well,” remembers White. “I don’t know if that would have happened 10 years before that.”
This led to the important realization that creating the world he wants for his children wouldn’t happen simply through the adversarial law system. It motivated him to focus on working towards a national shift in collective thinking, which he believes is achieved through building relationships and understanding.
“This lecture series, the Centre for Pre-Confederation Treaties and Reconciliation, they all exist because of this shift in thinking,” says White. “There’s very important work to be done in raising levels of understanding and knowledge. If you have understanding, you can have relationships and then people’s hearts and minds are turned toward each other in the right way.”
Dr. Ralph Nilson, VIU President and Vice-Chancellor, says White has dedicated his career to working for, advising and leading First Nations and First Nations organizations. As well as serving several roles with his Nation, including Chief, White was elected by the Chiefs of British Columbia to lead the First Nations Summit (FNS) as a member of the FNS Task Group. He has also served as a member of the BC First Nations Leadership Council, and continues to serve as a lawyer and negotiator for First Nations governments across Canada.
“Doug is a strong and important voice in the ongoing work of reconciliation,” says Nilson. “VIU continues to support strong First Nation voices to provide direction and guidance in moving together towards building understanding and healing relationships. Doug’s keynote talk is another step on that path."
White’s keynote lecture – Re-Imagining Reconciliation: Confronting Myths and the Future of Canada – will take place in VIU’s Malaspina Theatre (Building 310) on Monday, November 26 from 7-9 pm. The keynote talk will be followed by a question and answer session hosted by Paul Kennedy of CBC Radio One’s Ideas, and also recorded for national broadcast. To register for this free event, please visit the Eventbrite link.
Jenn McGarrigle, Communications Officer, Vancouver Island University
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