Williams to share knowledge in new role

Human and Social Development, Education

- Amanda Proctor

Williams. Credit: Indspire

An emerita professor whose work at UVic and with Indigenous communities helped shape powerful Indigenous educational collaborations and inclusive learning environments—on campus and off—has been named a 2021 Pierre Elliot Trudeau Fellow. The fellowship celebrates the role that Wanosts’a7 Lorna Williams, Lil’watul from Mount Currie, has played in Indigenous language revitalization and education in Canada—and the ways she continues to nourish its future by mentoring emerging scholars.

During her long career at UVic, Williams became the inaugural director of the department of Indigenous Education and she led the development of the degree programs in Indigenous Language Revitalization and Counselling in Indigenous Communities. She also served as the Canada Research Chair in Education and Linguistics. Her work has been honoured with an Indspire Award in 2018 and the Order of Canada in 2020.

As a Trudeau Fellow, Williams will spend three years as a mentor to a group of doctoral scholars on the theme of language, culture and identity.

Highlighting the importance of language, culture and identity

Williams says the focus on language, culture and identity is more pressing than ever. “The knowledge that's housed in Indigenous languages is really valuable because of what we as humans have done to the land. In order to be able to revitalize the land we're going to need knowledge of how to do that. And I think that in Indigenous knowledge systems, within Indigenous languages, we will be able to find how to reverse what we've done.”

The connection between language, culture and identity is also important in the work of decolonization, Williams says.

What we've been highlighting recently is what happens to people when they become disconnected from their languages. And that's what happened to us over several generations, because of residential school. That colonial history saw the power and the strength of language, so they sought to silence it. And we're all trying to reverse that history. she says. That is the power of language.

—Wanosts’a7 Lorna Williams, emerita professor at UVic and 2021 Pierre Elliot Trudeau Fellow.

Mentorship offers a gateway for engaged leaders

Another key aspect of the fellowship is taking on the role of a mentor. The Trudeau Foundation’s mission is to offer a gateway for doctoral scholars to become engaged leaders within their institutions and communities, supported by the fellows.

Williams says that it’s important for leadership to be fostered. “In traditional times in Indigenous communities, leaders would be mentored and encouraged from a very young age. I think that it's important to support people who come forward into leadership roles, and also to see people who would make good leaders and to encourage them.”

One of the doctoral scholars Williams will support over the fellowship is Monique Auger, a Métis PhD candidate in the Social Dimensions of Health program at UVic whose research centres on Métis ways of knowing and revitalizing the child welfare system, with a focus on prevention.

Monique Auger

Learning from wise practices

Auger says she was “thrilled” when Williams was announced as a fellow. In learning from an expert in language revitalization, Auger looks forward to applying Williams’ ideas to her own process of learning Michif. “I know that learning about the wise practices and the good work that's being done across language groups, I can then take those and apply them to my own learning.”

For Auger, language, culture and identity “are incredibly important protective factors in our holistic wellness, and also really make up the foundations of who we are as people,” she says. “I am so excited that I get to now spend the next three years learning from amazing folks like Dr. Williams.”

Looking to the future, Williams says she hopes to see the development of a PhD in Indigenous Language Revitalization and a teacher education program in Indigenous languages at UVic. She says that UVic “can continue to lead the way,” in Indigenous language revitalization. “We need to continue to really uphold support to the people working in the department [of Indigenous Education]. We would not have been able to do this work had it not been for such an amazing group of people throughout the university.”


In this story

Keywords: Indigenous, languages and linguistics, research

People: Wanosts’a7 Lorna Williams, Monique Auger

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