Selkirk College released its Our Journey Together: Indigenization Plan 2019-2024 last December, a living document that brings together the vision of how the institution can make a difference in the lives of both Indigenous students and members of the college community. Arriving to the West Kootenay this past May after a decade at Camosun College in Victoria where she was both a faculty member and Indigenization Coordinator, Dianne Biin is now charged with leading the effort at Selkirk College.
“It takes time and you have to give people time to become comfortable with the uncomfortable,” says Biin, who is Tsilhqot’in from Tsi Del Del. “Everything that was taught to me within the education system showed Indigenous people as a dying race and a vanishing peoples, that we were being absorbed into the body politic. That position is being changed now, where Indigenous Peoples and history are coming back into education. Indigenization is about creating a balance in perspectives, technology and practices; it’s not about saying that one is better than the other. Both worldviews and practices can exist harmoniously and it’s up to everyone to make sure that the weaving together continues.”
With a career in education that spans more than 25 years, Dianne Biin is Selkirk College’s new Manager of Indigenous Education & Engagement. Originally from the Chilcotin region of British Columbia, Biin arrived to the West Kootenay this past spring after spending a decade at Camosun College in Victoria.
Recognizing that foundational change does not happen quickly, Biin’s patience and persistence is a promising way forward for a college committed to delivering a model that encourages deeper understanding for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous learners.
“Through consultation, we have created a plan aimed at improving participation and success in post-secondary education for Indigenous students,” says Selkirk College President Angus Graeme. “Having focused leadership from Dianne and her team means that we can dig even deeper into the work of Indigenization and realize important change at the post-secondary level that will improve Selkirk College and make a significant difference in the lives of students and staff.”
A Journey Towards a Leadership
Biin was raised in the Chilcotin region of British Columbia in the 1970s where the odds were heavily stacked against a young Indigenous female. Biin’s mother married her non-Indigenous father in the late-1960s at a time when the Canadian government’s Indian Act denied women of their status under the law and legally required them to be separated from their community. Biin’s early years were spent in a log cabin in McLeese Lake, unable to visit the reserve where her mom grew up until she was six.
By the time she was in high school, Biin would travel the three-hour return trip by bus to Williams Lake to seek an education that was far from accepting of her ancestry. She started high school with more than 40 Indigenous relatives and peers, but by Grade 12 was one of only four who graduated.
“The inherent amount of racism that was present in schools at the time wears on a person after a while,” Biin explains. “As a kid going through that, you get to a point where you don’t see a future for yourself in the Canadian politic… so you just go home to your community because that place feels safe.”
Selkirk College released its Our Journey Together: Indigenization Plan 2019-2024 last December at the Castlegar Campus with a celebration that included traditional dances by regional youth.
Biin graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree from Simon Fraser University in 1994—a program delivered in partnership with the Secwépemc Cultural Education Society in Kamloops—and completed her Masters of Education from the University of British Columbia in 2016. Her career over the last 25 years has been filled with leadership on a number of levels. She started at Camosun College in 2009 as an instructor in the Indigenous Studies Program, worked in the Centre for Excellence in Teaching & Learning and spent time as the Indigenization Coordinator.
In her new role at Selkirk College, Biin will continue to build from the work she has done to this point in the post-secondary sector.
“We are resilient peoples,” she says. “The realm for Indigenous staff, educators and scholars working in education is to make sure people are aware, that they understand there are other ways of being and other ways of relating. The difficulty of doing Indigenization work is that it takes people a while to check their assumptions and their conceptions of what this relationship should be. It’s an emotional journey and that takes time, you can’t force it.”
The Work of Today, the Change for Tomorrow
Our Journey Together sets out five key areas of focus for Selkirk College that includes governance and policy, curricula and programs, supports and services for students, employee development and tools, and facilities and infrastructure. Acknowledging the traditional territories of the First Nations of the West Kootenay and Boundary regions that include the Sinixt, Syilx, Ktunaxa, and Secwépemc Peoples, and acknowledging the immense contribution being made by First Nations, Métis and Inuit students, Selkirk College is moving forward recognizing that learning and education is key to understanding for all involved.
As she settles into her new position, Biin is excited to turn the plan into action at the college.
“Relationships are the foundation to everything that we do together,” says Biin. “My priority at this point is figuring out where people are standing at so that I can meet them there. That’s when we start the conversations to figure out the areas of information sharing and development that can still continue.”
The Selkirk College Elders Program is one example of providing ongoing opportunity to build relationships. In October, Métis elder Gerry Rempel held a series of storytelling events at the Mir Centre for Peace arbour on the Castlegar Campus.
Indigenous learners arrive to Selkirk College from various Nations and communities to explore opportunities for oneself, family and community. Realizing the challenges students face to simply get to that point, Biin is focused on creating a post-secondary atmosphere that is welcoming.
“It’s self-determination, it’s nation-building, it’s re-remembering and it’s rebuilding community,” she says of what education provides Indigenous learners. “With the wrongs that have happened, communities are in places of grief and loss. But they are also in places of rebuilding, redevelopment, redesigning and bringing Indigenous ways of governance back into being. For a lot of students coming here, that is their focus.”
Encouraged by the work already being done and inspired by the college’s leadership to fully embrace the steps forward, Biin’s insight and patience is a powerful asset for the region.
“This is inter-generational work, it isn’t just the work for today,” says Biin. “It will continue after I am gone and we need to set the stage for those to do the job well in the future. We need to create an instance where there is connection and emotion, love and generosity, and most of all kindness.”