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Secwépemc leader and poet to receive honorary degree

Garry Gottfriedson has collaborated with UNBC Professor Dr. Sarah de Leeuw on efforts to foster foster cultural humility skills in physicians working in north and central B.C. UNBC photo

Garry Gottfriedson, an Indigenous leader, rancher, educator and world-renowned poet from the Secwépemc First Nation, will receive an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from the University of Northern British Columbia during the 2023 Convocation ceremony at the Prince George campus on May 26.

Gottfriedson was born into a ranching family in the vast watersheds of the Thompson Rivers, near Kamloops. As a young boy, he spent the first five years of his formal education at the Kamloops Indian Residential School on Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc before his parents secured his entrance into the public school system.

“It is because of my ancestors and parents that I am secure with my Secwépemc identity,” Gottfriedson says. “They instilled the importance and significance of our way of being so that I would undoubtedly know my language, land and culture, despite the fight that lay before me.”

Gottfriedson is a fluent speaker of both Secwepemctsin and Cree. His advocacy is deeply interwoven with his passion for language preservation, education and the arts.

For more than 40 years, Gottfriedson has been at the forefront of Indigenous self-determination and identity reclamation, beginning with his land-based learning and teaching at the Indigenous working community and cultural revolution retreat, Smallboy Camp, which is an inspiration to Indigenous people around the world. As an educator, Gottfriedson has worked at all levels – from kindergarten to graduate levels in post-secondary – teaching, designing curriculum, advising and as an administrator.

Gottfriedson has worked with UNBC Professor and Canada Research Chair in Humanities and Health Inequities Dr. Sarah de Leeuw on efforts to combat anti-Indigenous racism and foster cultural humility skills in physicians across north and central British Columbia. He has further connections with UNBC through the ‘Ut’loo Noye Khunni-Weaving Words Celebration and has mentored students in their creative pursuits through thesis work guidance.

“It is our collective creative voices that work together to smash down the barriers that block progress,” says Gottfriedson. “This is what our young Indigenous voices do.”

Gottfriedson has achieved international success due to outstanding accomplishments in the creative arts. He has published 11 books of poetry, been inducted into the International Library of Poetry Hall of Fame and had his work featured in international venues, including the prestigious website,

Gottfriedson is currently the Secwépemc Cultural Advisor for Thompson Rivers University. He holds a Bachelor of Education from the University of Calgary and a Master of Education from Simon Fraser University, along with three other Instructors Diplomas. He studied creative writing at Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado where he studied under great poets and musicians such as Alan Ginsberg and Marianne Faithful.

Gottfriedson will receive the honorary degree during the morning ceremony celebrating the Class of 2023 at Convocation on May 26.

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