Bruce McKean

In 2021, alumnus Bruce McKean (BA ‘70) made a gift of $1.5 million to establish the Chief Mungo Martin Research Chair in Indigenous Mental Health at the University of Victoria. The role of the chair, in UVic’s Department of Psychology, will be to develop mental-wellness research and learning that is informed by engagement with Indigenous partners and communities. Below, Bruce explains the personal story behind this gift and its name.

People dancing around a fire in a big house
Bruce McKean takes part in the Indigenous naming ceremony held on September 22, 2022 at Wawadiťła, also known as Mungo Martin House. The family of Mungo Martin gave permission for the name of Mungo Martin to be used in the title of UVic’s new research chair in Indigenous mental health. (Photo: UVic Photo Services)
I couldn’t have been more than seven when I first visited the Thunderbird Park carving shed. It was a quiet place. Just Chief Martin contemplating the cedar in front of him and working away with a hatchet, adze or knife. I can still recall the scent of the cedar.

Sixty-plus years of education and life experiences—including a first-year Canadian history course in UVic’s Clearihue building—left me with no sense of the social or economic state of the descendants of the Indigenous peoples encountered by explorers, fur traders and European immigrants. But the Truth and Reconciliation process surfaced a growing recognition of what 150 years of oppression of language, ritual, oral history and community has done to successive generations.

I was aware and sympathetic and ignorant all at the same time.

While I was on the board of Cuso International we financially assisted the Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre in Winnipeg to develop a workshop around Truth and Reconciliation. When the three-day workshop was ready for testing, there was room for one board member to participate (me). The workshop was delivered by Anishinaabe Elder Wally Chartrand.

By the end of the first day, I was totally caught up in the journey Wally was taking us on. By the end of the third day all of us had shed tears.

Some years earlier, I had been given a copy of John Ralston Saul's book A Fair Country and it was sitting in my pile of ‘one day’ books. After three days listening to Wally, the ‘one day’ had arrived, and so did my understanding of what reconciliation had to mean. Not reconciliation between Indigenous peoples and other Canadians, but rather we others reconciling ourselves with our history.

So what to do?

I’m starting to understand, accept, be open to learning and integrating that learning into thinking how I can contribute to the ongoing healing. I’m starting where I can, by establishing this research chair to support mental wellness.

I’ve admired Chief Martin’s art since I was a boy, but it’s not just art. His work is an expression of collective strength and self-determination. It has become a statement of cultural identity and a touchstone for current and future Indigenous generations’ understanding of where they came from and where they may want to go. And with renewed and revived cultural grounding can come the strength to face the work of many generations.”

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