A Talking Stick gifted by University of Victoria officials to Vancouver Island University’s (VIU) chancellor, Cloy-e-iss, Dr. Judith Sayers, solidifies a longstanding relationship between the two institutions and reaffirms a commitment to reconciliation.
Sayers was installed in June 2021 as VIU Chancellor. To honour the new chancellor, Dr. Kevin Hall, UVic President and Vice-Chancellor, and Qwul’sih’yah’maht, Dr. Robina Thomas, UVic’s Associate Vice-President Indigenous, commissioned the creation of a Talking Stick by Ts’usquinuxn, William Good, that they gifted to Sayers on March 24.
“I hope UVic and VIU can work towards reconciliation together,” said Hall. “You can’t have reconciliation without respect, and you can’t have respect without truth, so we’re trying to tell the truth, to be honest to ourselves, to be honest with our students.”
Sayers said VIU and UVic are aligned in this goal of transforming higher education and opening the system up to more Indigenous knowledge.
“Institutions like UVic and VIU are embracing those changes and we all play a role in making sure things change,” she said. “Reconciliation is just a word, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is just a document, it’s up to us to breathe life, to breathe meaning into these concepts and documents. It’s an honour to have this role, it gives me a greater voice and the opportunity to be part of the change with all of you.”
The ceremony included the calling of witnesses, who are chosen from different communities and are paid for their work. According to Hul’q’umi’num customs, as explained by the event Speaker Sqwulutsutun, William Yoachim, it is the witnesses’ role to remember what happened at the event and bring that information back to their communities. Dr. Deborah Saucier, VIU president and vice-chancellor, was one of the witnesses called upon.
“I’m deeply honoured to be a witness, and I’ve heard a few things here today about the power of women, about the power of Indigenous knowledge and the importance of listening to your Elders,” she said, adding that because she listened to her parents, she is currently serving as a university president at an institution that prides itself on how inclusive it is and that prioritizes helping all people meet their potential.
Thomas echoed Saucier’s thoughts, reflecting that it is important to work together to ensure access to education.
“It’s not about whether Indigenous students come to VIU or UVic, or Royal Roads. It’s just about getting them there and supporting them when they get there,” she said.
According to Good, a Talking Stick was traditionally carved for a Chief to represent their position and prestige while they gave speeches at potlatches, in ceremonies, sacred events, as well as monumental and historical occasions.
“Talking Sticks tell us when we can talk, but they also tell us when we should listen,” said Marion Buller, UVic’s new Chancellor. “It works out that we have to listen a lot more than we can talk when we have a talking stick, so I’ve learned that listening is more important than talking, and that listening and talking in a respectful way is the basis for healthy, progressive relationships.”
Good, a Hereditary Chief and Master Carver from Snuneymuxw First Nation, carved the Talking Stick as a representation of Sayers’ lineage and customs while she is doing the work of Chancellor of Vancouver Island University. It is carved in the traditional Coast Salish style from Snuneymuxw to honour Sayers and her position in Coast Salish communities.
Despite Good being from the Eagle Clan and not of the Thunderbird Clan himself, he carved a thunderbird with lightning snakes for Sayers’ Nuu-Chah-Nulth heritage, as would be customary to do as a carver with the teachings and understanding between Hereditary Chiefs. There is a grey whale to represent the significance of Nuu-Chah-Nulth whalers and a killer whale to represent Judith’s journey as Chancellor and to give her strength. The halibut and salmon were carved to represent the richness and great wealth of culture that she brings to VIU.