Indigenous protocols guide historic installation

President Kevin Hall in the Ceremonial Hall of First Peoples House during the Welcome to the Territory and Installation Ceremony. Credit: UVic Photo Services

Newly installed University of Victoria President Kevin Hall has become the first president of the university to formally seek permission to work on the territory of local First Nations before taking office.

The moving ceremony and installation took place at the First Peoples House at UVic and was a significant departure from the usual presidential installment. The ceremony followed Coast Salish protocols for welcoming a new guest to the territory.

After being welcomed to lək̓ʷəŋən territory by Elder Dr. Skip Dick and Chief Ron Sam from the Songhees First Nation, Hall was sworn into office by BC Lieutenant Governor Janet Austin wearing a blanket referred to as a Nobility Blanket or a Chiefly Robe, made especially for the president by Songhees weaver Myrna Crossley. He was also presented with a striking red and black hood for his official regalia made by Ay Lelum of The Good House of Design and master Coast Salish artist and Snuneymuxw First Nation hereditary chief William Good, Tseskinakhen, and designer Sandra Good,Thul Te Lada.

“I was absolutely humbled by the whole experience,” Hall said after the ceremony. “The ceremony felt like such an important step in decolonizing our institution. After the tragedy of the confirmation of thousands of graves at the sites of residential schools over the last few months, no one can continue at a snail’s pace any longer when it comes to truth and reconciliation.”

Songhees Nation Chief Ron Sam rose at the end of the ceremony to thank Hall for recognizing the territory and protocols of local First Nations. “It’s not always easy to stand with our people. Courageous sir, I lift my hands to you for taking that step.”

As the ceremony got underway, selected individuals rose one by one as their names were called to acknowledge their role as witnesses to the events that were about to happen. In Coast Salish tradition, such witnesses carry the responsibility of returning to their communities and sharing the news, Songhees Elder Al Sam told the audience.

In his own address at the ceremony, Hall spoke to his lifetime of privilege as an educated white male, albeit one with parents who raised their four children in near poverty. He pledged to use that privilege to drive “meaningful and necessary change” for Indigenous Peoples.

“UVic’s flags were lowered in May, and will remain lowered until further notice in honour of the thousands of children who died at residential schools,” said Hall. “UVic must acknowledge our role in perpetuating colonial violence.”

University Chancellor Shelagh Rogers said after the ceremony that she deeply appreciated Hall’s acknowledgment of the role that educational institutions have played in perpetuating colonization and systemic racism.

“The request for permission to work in the Indigenous territories the university stands on is not only historic, it is right,” said Rogers. “I’m proud that the first such request was granted on the territories of the Songhees, Esquimalt and W̱SÁNEĆ Peoples, and came from the incoming president of the University of Victoria. It was an honour to witness this ceremony."

Hall is the eighth president and vice-chancellor of UVic and began his five-year term Nov. 1, 2020. The installation was held Sept. 8, 2021 as a private ceremony following public health guidelines and broadcast as a virtual event Sept. 28.

View the ceremony and read more about the occasion in the campus article.

Read more about the Coast Salish ceremonial items and artwork used in the ceremony.

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In this story

Keywords: Indigenous, colonialism, reconciliation, staff

People: Kevin Hall, Shelagh Rogers

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