Okanagan College and Westbank First Nation (WFN) continue its tradition of working together.
The two groups recently signed a new Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), building on a long history of working together to increase access and support for WFN members in achieving their post-secondary education goals.
The new MOU outlines seven ways in which the partners will continue to collaborate on projects and programs that will benefit learners from the WFN community, while helping both organizations learn from one another and build professional capacity.
Signing on behalf of Westbank First Nation was Chief Christopher Derickson and Councillors Andrea Alexander, Jordan Coble, Lorrie Hogaboam and Fernanda Alexander. Representing Okanagan College was President Jim Hamilton, Interim Vice President Students Allan Coyle and Director of Student Services James Coble.
The agreement notes how the college and WFN will work together to embrace the spirit and intent of reconciliation in developing culturally appropriate, meaningful, and quality education and training that meets the needs of Indigenous learners and responds to key skills gaps in the region.
“Our members have been accessing post-secondary education and training opportunities at Okanagan College for decades and in growing numbers, and so we value being able to provide input and guidance into how the college can continue to make good on its commitment to providing welcoming, inclusive and supportive spaces for Indigenous students to thrive,” said Derickson. “I’m encouraged by the way we continue to add more and more examples of collaborative programs and projects that are benefitting students with each passing year.”
The announcement of the new agreement comes on National Indigenous Peoples Day in Canada.
It also comes during what would have been Convocation season at Okanagan College, with hundreds of graduates usually crossing the stage to collect credentials in June.
After surveying students on their preferences, the college postponed Convocation until COVID-19 conditions will allow for in-person ceremonies.
“Given all that’s going on in the world and in our community, it’s very timely for us to be thinking about how we can support learners,” said Derickson. “Congratulations to all the new graduates at Okanagan College who will be stepping out into our communities and sharing their knowledge and skills at a critical time.”
The MOU also describes how Okanagan College will continue to turn to WFN for guidance on how First Nations ways of knowing, doing and being can be incorporated to enrich the educational, organizational and cultural fabric of the College.
“This agreement is the continuation of a very positive and deeply valued relationship between Okanagan College and Westbank First Nation,” said Hamilton. “It’s a collaboration that has benefited many students – Indigenous and non-Indigenous – over the years. The partnership has provided us with valuable insights into how we can continue to support WFN learners, how we can learn from Indigenous ways of knowing and doing, and how we can build on this mutually beneficial relationship.”
Okanagan College has one of the highest and fastest-growing rates of Indigenous student participation of any institution in the sector. In 2018-19 the college delivered educational programming to 1,825 Indigenous students.
Working with and Learning from the Indigenous Community is one of the College’s key directions outlined in its Strategic Plan 2016-2020. As a result of that plan, the college created an Indigenization Task Force in 2016 and has since collaborated with Indigenous communities, student learners (past, present and future) and Elders from across the region to inform and guide that effort.
In 2016, the college and WFN signed a formal MOU to work together on collaborative projects, programs, cultural events and ways in which to support learners.
“The agreement signed this spring renews and expands on that commitment,” said Hamilton.
The flag of the Okanagan Nation Alliance (ONA) was raised at Okanagan College’s Kelowna and Vernon campuses in 2019 to acknowledge that those campuses reside on unceded territories of the Syilx Okanagan people. A Secwepemcúlecw flag was raised at the Salmon Arm campus, located on the unceded territories of the Secwepemc.