Coming together in interdependence

June 19, 2012
Raina Delisle
Shawn Morris

What started as a class project could become an important tool for educating new students and the university community about Royal Roads’ Coast Salish heritage.

“Even before the pyramids had been built in Egypt, the indigenous populations on our West Coast, and in fact right here, on the land that is now home to Royal Roads University, were developing an amazingly rich and complex culture,” BA Professional Communication student Shawn Morris says in a voiceover for a video entitled Tse Tsa Watle: Coming Together in Interdependence

Morris – along with fellow students Brett Blair, April Trigg and Matt Smith – created the video as part of their professional experience class project. The nine-minute piece discusses Coast Salish history. It also explores First Nations’ different way of learning and how everyone can learn from their perspectives.

The students were required to find a client, do a needs assessment, create a communications plan, implementing it and make recommendations. In this case, the students’ client was Prof. Virginia McKendry and the Tse Tas Watle initiative.

A Hul’q’umi’num’ word, Tse Tas Watle means people coming together to help one another. The 1.5-year-old Royal Roads initiative is loosely defined and ever-evolving, McKendry says. To date, the project has brought together interested parties to hear from six First Nations guest speakers at Royal Roads.

“The goal of the Tse Tsa Watle initiative is, in all our diversity and difference, for indigenous and non-indigenous people to find projects and initiatives and good things to do together that will help us start creating unity of mind that doesn’t exclude anybody or anybody’s world view,” McKendry explains.

McKendry says she is very pleased with the result – and she’s not the only one. For the video, Morris won a Student Communicator of the Year – Award of Merit (Communication Creative category) from the International Association of Business Communicators, British Columbia (IABC/BC).

“The IABC/BC Student Communicator of the Year awards young talent and rewards excellence in communication,” says Monica Hartanto, co-director of student services for IABC. “We’re pleased to see students, like Shawn, demonstrate their ability to think strategically and develop a solution to meet the communication need.”

The video brought to life the significance of First Nations history at Royal Roads. Videos of Tse Tsa Watle gatherings are intermixed with an array of photos. In one of the video clips, Chief Burt Charles, Scia’New (Beecher Bay), tells a story of saying hi to a friend in their language at a residential school and being sent to the principal’s office, where he stood in a corner from 9:15 a.m. to 6:10 p.m. “No bathroom, no lunch, no nothing,” he says in the video. “Just because I said hello in my language to a friend of mine.”

Some of the images in the video were provided by local First Nations while others were taken by Morris, a professional photographer. In one instance, he has merged two photos of Royal Roads aboriginal co-ordinator Greg Sam, who looks backward in one image and forward in the other. The voiceover adds context: “Aboriginal people are often looking inwards and outwards at the same time, while being able to make decision that make sense in creating sustainability, longevity and inevitably, cultural survival.” 

“What I love about Tse Tsa Watle is the sense of solidarity and the good feeling it creates; feelings of kith and kin,” McKendry says. “I feel really connected to these students. Everybody’s teachings and learning from each other all the time. It’s that feeling piece of education that we don’t get all the time that’s so precious to me and this video and all it represents.”

Morris agrees.

“I think Royal Roads is a little bit different than other universities in that when people come to school, a lot of them are mature students or are coming here to be in a learning environment that caters to, not just the end result, but a way of life beyond that. At other universities, people are often scurrying to get through, to get a piece of paper and go. I think the Royal Roads model corresponds to First Nations thinking.”

It’s not yet clear how the video will be used, but Morris hopes it will be shared with other students, perhaps as part of their orientation. He believes a better understanding of First Nations ways of living and learning will enhance students’ educational experience.

“Recognition and acceptance of Canada’s First Nations people should encourage us to incorporate their diverse practices into our educational system here at Royal Roads and also into our everyday lives,” Morris says in the video. “Be patient and accepting of a different way of doing things and chances are everything will fall into place.”