May 8, 2019 - 2:15pm
Celebrating and preserving Indigenous cultures and perspectives through place-based teachings is Frank Brown’s life-long commitment.
Brown, a member of the Heiltsuk First Nation, who carries the Hereditary Hemas (Chief) name of Dhadhiyasila (λ.λ.yasila) meaning “preparing for the largest potlatch”, will receive an Honorary Doctorate of Laws from Vancouver Island University (VIU)in recognition of his commitment to advancing the causes of Indigenous sovereignty, cultural resiliency and environmental stewardship. He will participate in VIU’s afternoon convocation ceremony on Wednesday, June 5, 2019 starting at 2:30 pm.
Brown was the initiator of and lead coordinator for the Tribal Canoe Journey to Bella Bella in 1993 and 2014 – the resurgence of the annual tradition of First Nations people in the Pacific Northwest Coast that engages nations to share their culture, dance, songs and language.
The journeys have become an important revitalization project of the Heiltsuk Glwa or “ocean going canoe” – which had not been carved or used over several decades. In 1986, as a student, Brown raised $250,000 to carve the traditional Glwa and led a symbolic canoe journey by enlisting other youth and paddling to Vancouver for Expo ʾ86.
“Frank has dedicated most of his life to the canoe journey resurgence. Through the Tribal Journeys our people have witnessed the strength of cultural connection of the Glwa and the meaning it has brought to our contemporary lives,” says K̓áwáziɫMarilyn Slett, Heiltsuk Tribal Council Chief Councilor. “Many of our young people who have embarked on these journeys were high-risk youth. The impact and strength of participating in the Tribal Journeys is such that it gives each youth a renewed sense of their Heiltsuk identity, promoting life balance and a healthy lifestyle.”
“By carrying forward the tradition of the Tribal Canoe Journey, we are holding strong to our long history on the coast,” says Brown. “The journey is a vessel of empowerment and keeps us connected to our culture and natural world in a physical, emotional and spiritual way.”
This spiritual awakening journey is similar to the one Brown embarked on when he was 14 years old. Facing a criminal conviction, Brown’s family elders requested he be exiled on an island in Heiltsuk territory, as part of Heiltsuk law, instead of going to a juvenile detention centre in Vancouver. He was on the island for eight months, and he was the first person in living memory within the community and in the Canadian judicial history to follow this Indigenous legal tradition.
During this time of solitude, Brown experienced the healing power of nature and reconnected with the importance of his Indigenous culture and place-based teachings. The experience deeply rooted a life-long commitment in Brown to promote cultural resiliency and environmental stewardship.
Brown values education as a means to achieve sustainable socio-economic prosperity for Indigenous peoples, and supported the development of a community-based stewardship program and Aboriginal ecotourism place-based learning program with Vancouver Island University.
“VIU as an ally has been open to listening and truly hearing the Indigenous community and that is evident in the support they have provided in helping develop curriculum to promote Indigenous education and prosperity,” he says.
VIU also shows its support to Indigenous ways of knowing and being by participating in the Tribal Journeys and opening its doors to travelers of the journey. “VIU has always been very welcoming to our people. I have taken several groups of faculty and staff along with me on the journeys to experience our culture,” says Gary Manson, VIU Elder-in-Residence and participant of the Tribal Journeys. “It has been incredibly impactful to see all the different tribal groups come together and share in song and dance. It plays a significant role in connecting the younger generation who have grown up in an urban landscape to understand the teachings of our ancestors and to connect and advocate for our Earth.”
Brown is currently proprietor of SeeQuest Development, a management consulting firm; Cultural Coordinator for Heiltsuk Tribal Council; and an adjunct professor in Resource and Environmental Management at Simon Fraser University. He co-chaired a Heiltsuk Nation initiative to investigate the 2016 Nathan E. Stewart environmental disaster, where an American-owned tug and barge ran aground in Heiltsuk territory, spilling 110,000 litres of diesel fuels and heavy oils and devastating the coastline. Brown collaborated on a ground-breaking report and assessment of the spill in the context of Heiltsuk laws.
“Frank’s story of grit, perseverance and service serves as a model for those who aspire to make a positive difference in the lives of others,”said Dr. Ralph Nilson, VIU President and Vice-Chancellor. “His own personal journey along with his efforts to revitalize the Tribal Journeys are inspiring for both VIU students and the wider community and we are honoured to celebrate his achievements.”
Brown will deliver brief remarks during VIU’s June 5 convocation ceremony which can be viewed on VIU’s Facebook page.
Rae-Anne Guenther, Communications Officer, Vancouver Island University