Wilfred “Grouse” Barnes and Pamela Barnes, Elders and Knowledge Keepers from Westbank First Nation, say they were surprised to find out they were named Okanagan College Honorary Fellows for 2020.
Pamela says they “got a call from the president, Jim Hamilton, inviting us to have tea,” in June 2020.
“I looked at Grouse and asked him what he did, because from experience, getting called into the big principal’s office was never a positive experience,” says Pamela.
It turns out they were being honoured for their positive impact within the community and their generous contribution through education and mentorship at the Kelowna campus.
Okanagan College’s Honorary Fellow Award recognizes “distinguished achievement or outstanding service.”
“It was a very pleasant surprise when we found out what the purpose of the meeting was, because I had no idea, not in my wildest thoughts, that we would receive an award,” she says.
Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the 2020 Honorary Fellow ceremony was cancelled, so the Okanagan College held their first virtual award ceremony on Jan. 21.
“This marks the first time ever that we have convened virtually to recognize Okanagan College’s Honorary Fellows and distinguished award recipients,” said Andrew Hay, Okanagan College provost and vice-president, during the virtual ceremony.
Pamela says they appreciate being recognized as a pair.
“I’m happy this honour was given to both of us because it wouldn’t have felt right if it were just one of us,” Pamela says.
Pamela and Grouse have spent decades teaching and raising Indigenous cultural awareness.
“It wasn’t my plan to end up doing this kind of work,” says Pamela.
When she was in grade ten in a social studies class, she says she was being taught “mishandled Indigenous People history,” which inspired her to speak up and teach the true history of Indigenous Peoples to her class.
“My socials teacher invited me to do some presentations to the class from my perspective. I didn’t know that that was going to be the seeds to eventually end up doing this work,” she says.
Now the two are in their fifth year as adjunct professors in the faculty of Health and Social development at the University of British Columbia’s School of Nursing.
“We teach cultural sensitivity training to third-year nursing students,” says Pamela.
They were mentored into the work at UBC Okanagan by Eric Mitchell and Christina Marchand, the creators of the Cultural Safety Program.
Pamela and Grouse also offer Syilx cultural teachings to the public, in partnership with the Kelowna Heritage Museum, the Kelowna Art Gallery, the Rotary Centre for the Arts and the Regional Parks.
“We are dedicated to teaching and preserving the Syilx culture and knowledge,” says Grouse.
“I do feel that we both have very different backgrounds, and we bring different things into the work that we do at the Okanagan College,” he says.
Grouse is a fluent Nsyilxcən speaker and has been associated with the Okanagan College for over ten years as a cultural and language educator.
“I’m the school Elder for the Okanagan College,” Grouse explains.
“I help students who are having a hard time, whether they want to quit or turn to alcohol or drugs. I’ll talk to them and show them how not to quit school and help them finish school.”
Grouse also is part of the Okanagan Nation Response Team (ONRT). According to Grouse, they help to respond to critical incidents throughout the Indigenous communities in the Okanagan, assisting youth or families in trauma.
“It gives me a sense of accomplishment because I’m giving back to our people, to help them through some tough times,” Grouse says.
The couple are humbled to know they are appreciated and say they feel honoured to be the Okanagan College’s (OC) 2020 Honorary Fellows.
“This knowledge and everything we share has survived thousands of years, it is important who we are as people. We are honoured to share what we can,” Grouse says.
Athena Bonneau, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Discourse