‘They’re big moccasins to fill’: Outgoing TRU chancellor honoured for trailblazing work in education

Nathan Matthew, outgoing TRU Chancellor. Photo: Thompson Rivers University

During an event to honour outgoing Thompson Rivers University (TRU) chancellor Nathan Matthew, he was presented with a gift from his successor — whose family recognized him for his work as the first Secwépemc person to hold the role at the university.

TRU’s new chancellor DeDe DeRose, a member of the Esk’etemc First Nation, brought her mother Cecilia to Monday’s gathering at the Brown Family House of Learning. Her mom crafted a pair of buckskin gloves and medicine pouches for Matthew’s family when she heard about his retirement.

Before gifting the items, Cecilia spoke in Secwepemctsín to Matthew and ended her words with “kukwstéc-kuc,” meaning “we thank you.”

DeRose noted how she has been behind Matthew throughout their mutual careers in the education field and looks forward to following him into the role as chancellor — and her family wanted to show gratitude for his respect, thoughtfulness and reliability.

“For me they’re big moccasins to fill and that’s a bigger responsibility, to fill someone’s moccasins than it ever is to fill someone’s shoes,” said DeRose, who is now TRU’s second Secwépemc chancellor as of March 1. 

“I know that Nathan will have my back, he always has had my back and I look forward to his guidance as I move forward.”

TRU has two campuses in Secwepemcúl’ecw, located in both Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc and T’exelc.

Matthew is from Simpcw First Nation and has held the position of chancellor for two three-year terms, beginning in 2018. The honorary role involves presiding over convocation ceremonies and being part of the university’s senate and board of governors.

At the March 4 event, there was no shortage of the influential stories involving Matthew, from his positions in multiple education committees to the personal impact he’s had on students and faculty in TRU and beyond. 

Many colleagues were in attendance to share their stories of Matthew and the significance he has had in the education system throughout “B.C.” 

Guests heard how he has been a pioneer in the field, having been a senior negotiator for First Nations education in the province, which led to the tripartite agreement allowing First Nations to have control of their own schools. 

In 2006, the same year Matthew received an honourary Doctorate of Letters, he became the first executive director of Aboriginal Education at TRU, a position he held until 2014. 

Matthew has been influential all around “B.C.” including in his own community where he was the Kúkwpi7 (Chief) for more than 20 years. He is also a founding member of School District 73’s First Nations Education Council which is located in Secwépemc territory and is home to seven Secwépemc bands. 

He explained the position has been a privilege to represent the university and how in all his roles he was able to speak freely on his ideas for the university and the integration of Indigenous knowledge. 

“I was able to communicate and share ideas with those that were making the real decisions and doing the hard work,” he said.

As TRU president and vice-chancellor Brett Fairbairn said during Matthew’s roles within TRU, he taught the community about Secwépemc values and during his time as chancellor, led by example with those same values.  

“Nathan didn’t just identify the need for there to be more going on [in terms of Indigenous education at TRU] he also got involved and became a leader inside our university,” said Fairbairn.

Fairbairn discussed the publications put out by Matthew, including the discussion of Kw’seltktnéws, which describes the interconnection and relation of all things and is now featured in the TRU vision statement. 

While Matthew accepted praise for his part in getting the university to where it is now, he also thanked administrative staff as the people behind the scenes who kept him on track and were a source of strength for him. 

Matthew noted the encouragement and support that came from Joanne Brown, an Indigenous Elder with TRU, Vernie Clement as the associate director and Tina Matthew as the executive director in the Office of Indigenous Education. 

“I’ve been included on a roster of a winning team, this TRU team is on a winning streak,” he said. 

Convocation ceremonies are an event which Matthew calls a privilege as everyone is there for the milestone in a student’s life. 

Fairbairn noted how he never needed to fill in for Matthew at the convocations because he was always there for each ceremony and added that he saw the students look up to Matthew because of the belief he had in each student. 

That relationship between the chancellor and the students is described by Fairbairn as special and the heart of their ceremonies.

Behind the scenes, Matthew is just as committed to helping the students and growing the Indigenous education in the university. Fairbairn describes him as an advisor and leader within TRU’s board and senate. 

“Nathan has always brought an influence that is calm and thoughtful and positive,” he said.

Fairbairn says he is looking forward to the new influence of the 2024 chancellor while commending Matthew for all the work he’s done with TRU.

 “We’ve benefited so much, Nathan, from your wisdom, from your leadership, from your guidance, and from the example that you’ve set,” he said.

TRU’s provost and vice-president academic Gillian Balfour spoke of Matthew’s kindness from the first moment they met. 

Tina Matthew, who is also a member of Simpcw First Nation, commended Matthew for speaking from the heart at the countless talks he’s given and for his strength and willingness to fight for Youth and education. 

“You have supported education and believe in education and its power it has for changing communities and changing people,” she said. 

Joanne Brown, who has known Matthew for many years, noted the influence Matthew has had on her career, and the life she has in “Kamloops.” 

Brown complimented Matthews work on advancements from early childhood education all the way up to post-secondary education. 

“Nathan is always chosen to do big work because he’s versatile, creative and can cut to the chase quickly,” she said.

She said Matthew is dependable and is someone who can be a problem solver for anything that may arise. 

There were many more speakers such as Secwépemc Kúkwpi7s, Elders, and community members, who only validated everything that Matthew is said to be. Even for people who don’t know him personally, they have heard of his reputation to be an advocate and work hard in each role he is given. 

To end the honouring event, Tina Matthew blanketed the outgoing chancellor with a blanket featuring two rivers, the South Thompson and North Thompson rivers coming together to form one river. It also contained animal images bordered by the four colours of the medicine wheel. 

Drummers and singers ended the night by performing a song as Matthew sat wrapped in the blanket and embraced the song. 

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