Kevin Hall has been officially installed as UVic’s president.
Hall is the eighth president of UVic but the first to seek permission from local First Nations to work on the territory. The ceremony was conducted in line with Coast Salish traditions. It was later shared online as a video.
To begin the ceremony, Elder May Sam of the Tsartlip Nation offered a blessing in Hul’q’umi’num. Acting as the speaker of the ceremony, Al Sam of the Tsartlip Nation then called upon witnesses. Witnesses take what has happened in the ceremony home with them to their families, carrying the ceremony forward with them.
A blanket was placed on the floor. Traditionally, Coast Salish longhouses have dirt ground. The ground is seen as sacred, Al Sam explained, and the blanket offered protection.
Hall entered the room and walked towards the blanket, accompanied by Chief Ron Sam of the Songhees Nation. Hall also wore a blanket, known as a Nobility Blanket or a Chiefly Robe, made for him by Myrna Crossley of the Songhees Nation. His official regalia also features a red and black hood 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.
Rob Hancock, interim co-executive director in the UVic Office of Indigenous Academic Community Engagement (IACE), introduced Hall, noting that Hall recognizes his privilege as a white settler on these territories. On behalf of Hall, Hancock respectfully requested permission to live and work on the lands that the university stands on.
Elder Dr. Skip Dick from the Songhees First Nation joined Sam to welcome Hall to the territory and grant him that permission.
“On behalf of our Elder, that I’m here standing with, I just really raise my hands to you for taking part in this ceremony,” Sam said. “As a leader of one of the lək̓ʷəŋən nations, the Songhees Nation, it is the way you have conducted yourself and reached out and respected the protocols of this land … on behalf of our Elder and our community, permission is respectfully granted and we look forward to the continued work. Hay’sxw’qa”
Speaking to the Martlet after the ceremony, Hall expressed that he didn’t want the pomp and circumstance of a typical presidential installation. He credited Associate Vice President Indigenous Qwul’sih’yah’maht Robina Thomas with assisting him in organizing a ceremony that was aligned with the Coast Salish protocols.
“It was really important for me to signal that we’re trying to make a change,” Hall said, adding that he intends to listen more and be guided by what local communities say they want to see from UVic as president.
In his address at the ceremony, he also highlighted how he intends to increase access to education and partnerships between the university and the broader community as president. Hall says he has seen firsthand how university education can catapult someone into expanding opportunities.
“I’ve got three brothers and sisters, and we all went to university,” Hall said. “My parents didn’t even finish grade eight and my life was so different from theirs because of it … it’s a game-changer.”
In respect to access to education, Hall emphasized that the university must go beyond Ring Road and seek connections within the community. Hall offered the example of the Anti Racism Ambassador, a position created through UVic’s Equity and Human Resources Office. The Anti-Racism Ambassador works with community groups, governments, industry, and businesses in Victoria to help change the culture.
Although Hall sees universities primarily as a space for education, he also says they have a role to play in changing attitudes in society.
“So forget the old notion of ivory-covered towers,” Hall said in his address at the installation. “Think about the networks we are creating.”
With this Coast Salish installation, Hall signalled that a network he intends to prioritize is that between the university and local Indigenous Nations. However, his real work of acting on these commitments has only just begun.