Every week for the last year, Carla Alphonse travelled hundreds of kilometres from her home in Anahim Lake to Quesnel where she spent Fridays and Saturdays as a university student.
Alphonse made the long trek to the University of Northern British Columbia’s South-Central campus with a goal of learning and understanding the Tsilhqot’in language, her first language.
On June 1, the long hours spent in her car and the classroom paid off. She received her First Nations Language Certificate in the Tsilhqot’in language at the South-Central’s Convocation celebration.
And it was worth it.
“I believe preserving the Tsilhqot’in language is very important because that is part of who we are, and unfortunately some of it is being lost along the way,” said Alphonse, who was among nine other graduates who earned their First Nations Language Certificates in Tsilhqot’in.
“We do see the interest and the importance of us regaining our language and our culture. People are starting to recognize it and they’re strengthening it. With those skills, we’re becoming a stronger Nation.”
The celebration also included six graduates who earned First Nations Language Certificates in Carrier.
Alphonse, who spoke on behalf of the First Nations Language Tsilhqot’in class during the celebration, said while some of her fellow classmates travelled great distances to get to class, they were happy they could take the course in Quesnel that was close to their home communities.
“We didn’t have to travel far,” she said. “You’re still living in your community where you have the support, especially with the ones that have children and the ones that have jobs.”
Thanks to the knowledge she gained during the course, Alphonse, who also holds a certificate in Community and School Support and a diploma in Human Services, now has a job as a Chief’s Assistant, working with Tsilhqot’in Tribal Nation chair and Tl’etinqox Chief Joe Alphonse.
In 2016, the Tsilhqot’in Nation and the B.C. provincial government signed a five-year framework agreement that establishes a shared vision, principles and structures to negotiate a comprehensive and lasting reconciliation between the Nation and Province.
The agreement, named the Nenqay Deni Accord, outlines eight pillars of reconciliation to be negotiated in a holistic manner, including Tsilhqot’in culture and language, children and families, healthy communities, justice, education and training, lands and resources and economic development.
Five Bachelor of Social Work degrees and 13 Bachelor of Science in Nursing degrees were also confirmed June 1 in Quesnel.
For Jessie Olausen, who received her Bachelor of Social Work degree, the opportunity to study at her hometown campus was one she could not resist.
“I am a mother of a young child so it was very important to stay in my home community,” she said. “I had a lot of support within the community and the faculty here is amazing and they were very accommodating.
“I do like to help people. It’s one of my passions. Now as a child protection worker, I’m finally getting to act out with that passion in a sense and I just love social work.”
Olausen found a job right away at the Ministry of Children and Family Development office in Quesnel, where she had done her field placement.
“I love Quesnel and I hope to be here for a very long time.”
Bachelor of Science in Nursing graduate Sharon Nicholson, who spoke on behalf of her class, raised two young children while earning her degree.
Nicholson, who was born and raised in Quesnel, had her first child when she was 18 years old and then decided she wanted to do something more with her life. She upgraded some of her high school classes and successfully enrolled in the nursing program.
“I’m extremely happy,” she said. “It was hard on my son because he was mostly in daycare and there’s such a strict schedule so they didn’t see a lot of me.”
She would tell future nursing students to go for it and earn a degree at the South-Central campus.
“It’s totally worth it the environment here is so supportive,” she said. “People come from all over to attend UNBC. We built relationships that we’ll have for life.”