Photo courtesy NEC
Richmond’s John Webster was awarded the Gertie Guerin Visionary Award April 26 at the Native Education College’s (NEC) Honouring Feast and Fundraising Gala.
It saw the Musqueam Community Centre filled with candle-lit tables, honoured invitees, and a stage resplendent with First Nations carvings. The evening, that began with a dance from Tsatsu Stalqaya (Beach Wolves), also called Coastal Wolf Pack continued with moving four pieces performed by Nisga’a dancers with ages ranging from elders to toddlers to a babe-in-arms.
Webster was born in Alberta but moved to Richmond as a child, after his parents died. He went to Steveston Senior Secondary in Richmond.
Proud of his Cree heritage, Webster started as a real estate agent then went on a host of accomplishments according to award presenter, Howard Grant.
Grant spoke of Webster’s accomplishments as an athlete on the Vancouver Mustangs fastball team and his continuing skills on the links, calling him a “scratch golfer.”
By the 1980s, Webster was a board member of NEC. Webster is currently president and CEO of the Aboriginal Community Career Employment Services Society.
First Nations history and pride was at the forefront of the evening’s ceremonies. Grant said, “We don’t have history books of our history but we’ve left behind something very important, the education of who you are.”
Grant spoke of his mother, in attendance at the feast, saying “We didn’t have the luxuries we enjoy today. In 1966, we in the Musqueam community used kerosene lamps, outhouses, and had to walk two blocks to carry water.” This all while within two blocks of Southwest Marine Dr. Mansions.
Grant further spoke proudly of his mother: “She was the first native person on the Vancouver School Board.” He said many have launched their careers from the NEC.
Among the other five award winners was Freda Ens who won the Chief Joe Mathias Leadership award for her work over 28 years with victims’ services, social justice and criminal justice sectors. Ens, who is Haida, developed and managed outreach and support services for individual victims of crime, vulnerable groups and Aboriginal communities.
The presenters for her award, Wendy John and Trevor Linden said, “Freda shows us that we are never too old to go back to school. When she failed Grade 8, her teacher told her, ‘You can do it. You can do it better.” And she did.”
Through her work with the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Inquiry, Ens came to say, “Whether you’re a child or an adult, believe in yourself that you can go beyond.”
Linden remarked, “I think Freda’s busy.” He praised her courage and perseverance saying of the diminutive woman, “You are tougher than any hockey player I ever played with, even my good friend Gino Odjick.” At that, the room filled with laughter.
The NHL theme continued in the silent auction, a fundraiser for the NEC. There were many signed jerseys up for bid, including one donated by Linden. As well as stunning jewelry, there were high end pieces of art by such respected people as Morrisseau. The bids mounted as the evening progressed.
In a star-studded evening, the winners all impressed the attendees with their grit, their hard work and their accomplishments, often in the face of disadvantaged or heart-breaking beginnings.
While the stars of the evening were the honorees, those tasked with handing them out were no less stellar. Former premier Mike Harcourt offered one award and former Lt Governor of BC Stephen Point, spoke in glowing terms of the recipient’s accomplishments and the vital role played by NEC.
Jeanine Petel from Sechelt won the Academic Achievement Award for highest marks, much to her surprise. After graduating with her Early Childhood Education qualifications, she now works in daycare, loving every moment of it and, in something that evoked knowing laughter, glad to have left her life of a poor student, “surviving on Ichiban noodles,” behind.
Allyson Fraser from Musqueam won the Wanda Bolton Community Service Award. She went to Capilano University to become a para-legal and currently works in the Musequeam Legal/Taxation Department. In addition, Fraser has qualifications from First Nations Tax Administrators’ Institute and Simon Fraser University. In addition to her two children and her grandchildren she has welcome foster children into her family.
Frederick Lyle Dixon, known as Lyle, according to the Honourable Steven Point, hails from seven miles outside Litton. A graduate of the NEC and Douglas College Criminology program, Dixon later went on to complete a masters in social work at Wilfred Laurier University before becoming a professor at both NEC and UBC in social work.
In awarding Jimmy Lulua the Chief Joe Mathias Leadership Award, Lulua’s history as a ski coach and rodeo competitor laid the foundation for his life as the youngest of the six Ts’ilhqot’in “Chilcotin” Chiefs in his nation and the first Xeni Gwet’in (Nemiah Valley) Chief to have title and rights to 1900 sq. kilometres of land. Lulua was raised traditionally by his parents and continues to coach skiing at Mr. Timothy in the Nancy Greene Ski League while studying for his teaching degree through the University of British Columbia distance education program. Lulua works with youth in the program he initiated ten years ago which connects youth with horses and their Elders.
As former Lt. Governor Steven Point said, “At NEC we find acceptance. Many feel like an outsider at other educational institutions.” He said that, “At NEC, we find respect and empowerment.”