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Kwantlen among the first universities to issue Indigenous language diplomas

By Richmond Sentinel

Published 11:38 PST, Tue January 24, 2023

Last Updated: 11:58 PST, Tue January 24, 2023

New Kwantlen Polytechnic University (KPU) graduates will now receive graduation parchments featuring the Indigenous language spoken by the Kwantlen First Nation.

KPU is among the first universities in Canada to offer students an Indigenous language parchment, in addition to the English versions graduates already receive. The new parchments will feature a blend of English and hən̓q̓əmin̓əm̓ (pronounced HUN-kuh-MEE-num).

“KPU is making a meaningful commitment to reconciliation and recognizing the Kwantlen First Nation, whose peoples bestowed their name on our university,” says Zena Mitchell, associate vice-president of enrolment services and registrar at KPU. “Through this initiative, we hope to honour the hən̓q̓əmin̓əm̓ language, support the work led by Indigenous language keepers to revitalize Indigenous languages, and send our graduates off in a good way.”

All KPU graduates in the 2022–23 academic year will receive the new parchments, starting with fall graduates who will attend convocation ceremonies Feb. 13 to 17. Parchments—also known as diplomas—are official documents issued by the university that certify a student has completed a program.

Natalie Wood-Wiens, manager of Indigenous services at KPU, first raised the idea of an Indigenous language parchment with Dr. Alan Davis, KPU’s president and vice-chancellor. The university’s Indigenous advisory committee provided advice and supported the idea.

“I’m incredibly excited to have been a part of this initiative at KPU—a step towards reconciliation by acknowledging and honouring Indigenous languages, and timely given this falls within the International Decade of Indigenous Languages. Students who graduate KPU with a hən̓q̓əmin̓əm̓ language parchment will now have something that further connects them to the Nations on whose lands the university resides,” says Wood-Wiens, who is Métis and originally from Manitoba.

hən̓q̓əmin̓əm̓, also known as a Down River dialect of the Halkomelem language, is the language spoken by people of the Kwantlen, Katzie, Tsawwassen, Kwikwetlem, and Musqueam First Nations on whose traditional unceded territories KPU is situated. KPU is also located on the traditional unceded territories of the SENĆOŦEN-speaking Semiahmoo First Nation.

“This is another step on the path to ensuring that the traditional, ancestral lands of the First Nations people in the communities KPU serves are properly acknowledged,” says Davis. “Honouring Indigenous languages at KPU is part of our responsibility for systemic transformation. It is our responsibility to learn Indigenous languages and help Indigenous language keepers in their revitalization work.”

Fern Gabriel, a member of Kwantlen First Nation and hən̓q̓əmin̓əm̓ language teacher with Langley School District, used her expertise to translate the parchment text.

KPU is committed to advancing reconciliation and weaving Indigenous knowledge, values, and representation into the institution. Embedding the hən̓q̓əmin̓əm̓ language in parchments is one more way the university is encouraging various communities to learn the traditional language of the territories and respect the land-based Nations.

The hən̓q̓əmin̓əm̓ language is being included in more places around KPU. It can already be found at student service counters, and on campus building signs, and is being added to some institutional documents.

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