A Lesson in History from KPU’s Elder-in-Residence

KPIRG event sees the Kwantlen First Nation’s past help to inform the future of KPU students
Ashley Hyshka, Community Reporter

(From left to right) KPU elder in residence, Lekeyten, KPU professor of Criminology Lisa Monchalin, and KPU alumni, Brandon Gabriel. (Ashley Hyshka)

Students and eager listeners in Lisa Monchalin’s Indigenous Activism criminology course were treated to a speech by KPU’s very own Elder-in-Residence, Lekeyten, on Sept. 19.

The event, titled Our Home on Native Land, was hosted by the Kwantlen Public Interest Research Group and was part of a series called Dis/Orientation Days, which centered on raising awareness of social justice issues.

Lincey Amora, KPIRG’s Director of Campus Life, says that the organisation decided to host the event due to their strong relationship with Lekeyten, adding that KPIRG always aims to host at least one Indigenous educational event during Dis/Orientation. Amora also wants KPU students to understand the history between the Kwantlen First Nation and the university.

“It’s really important that history isn’t forgotten,” she says.

Through vivid storytelling, Lekeyten began the event by recalling how before Europeans arrived in the Lower Mainland, including the land that KPU resides on, which was inhabited by the Coast Salish Peoples. He explained the importance of being one with nature, living off the land, and staying involved in the local community.

The “laws of life” are a set of teachings practiced by the Kwantlen First Nation and their ancestors before them. The first law of life is health, followed by happiness, generations, humbleness, generosity, understanding, and forgiveness.

Lekeyten said that everyone attending the speech was of “one mind [and] one heart,” telling the attendees that they would “leave … with a great deal more diversity and culture.” He emphasized the importance of education, accepting words of wisdom from elders, and sharing that wisdom as a way of broadening one’s own perspective and the perspectives of others.

The words and stories that Lekeyten passed on to the listeners on that day were passed to him by his father who said, “Don’t hold onto your gifts for too long because you need to give those gifts away.”

As a child, Lekeyten attended day school where kids were taught to be quiet, even about being abused. Now his advice to new KPU students is to “never shut up, because your voice is important.”

“We need to hear your voice,” he says. “You young adults—you’re going to change law in British Columbia, in Canada, [in] North America … You’re the heartbeat of the nation.”

Chief Joe Gabriel, Lekeyten’s father in-law, bestowed the Kwantlen name on the university in 1982. “Kwantlen” itself translates into “tireless runner,” and Lekeyten hopes that KPU students will be inspired by the name throughout their time at the institution.

The second speaker of the night was Lekeyten’s son, Brandon Gabriel. It was clear that storytelling runs through the veins of both father and son as Gabriel recounted his life experiences as an artist, activist, and KPU alumni. He has participated in various demonstrations, including preventing a condominium from being built in Downtown Vancouver and protesting the Kinder Morgan pipeline, but considers himself an artist first and foremost.

“I don’t have guns,” Gabriel says. “I have paint brushes.”

The upcoming Dis/Orientation events are Social Justice 101 on Oct. 26 at KPU Surrey and Right to Resist on Oct. 27 at KPU Richmond.