Musqueam Voices: Brett Sparrow, a Bird's Eye View of Inspiring Service
By: Brett Sparrow
As a member and elected councillor for the Musqueam First Nation in Vancouver (as of the December 2020 election), my own UBC journey began as an undergrad student earning a degree in 2018 in Interdisciplinary Studies, with a focus on Economics and Political Science with a minor in Commerce. In 2020, I graduated with a Master’s of Community and Regional Planning within UBC’s Indigenous Community Planning (ICP) specialization. Musqueam played a pivotal role in developing the ICP program in 2011, and I’m proud to be the first Musqueam band member to graduate from the program.
Now, two years after graduating, I’m serving my first term on Musqueam’s Chief and Council… and am the youngest elected councillor for this term (at age 25). As part of this responsibility, my council mandate and portfolio hold me responsible for all land-use planning within Musqueam reserve land. What does this mean? It’s an exciting time for our community as we’ve just begun the process of a Master Plan development for all Musqueam Indian Reserve #2 lands (mibmasterplan.com). Among other things, this plan will physically bring to life the top community priorities outlined in our 2018 Comprehensive Community Plan – including increasing housing, community services and amenities, economic development, job opportunities and green spaces.
In terms of my own path and what led me here, I took the opportunity to explore my interests in Indigenous restorative justice work between my undergrad and graduate degree programs. So, when the opportunity arose, I interned for a year (in 2019) with the Indigenous Youth Internship Program in the BC Public Service. There, I became the first Indigenous Liaison for the BC Okanagan’s Sheriff’s Service (BCSS) and developed a framework for Indigenous community engagement that secured funding for BCSS’s new Indigenous engagement department and their projects, with the primary mission of answering Calls to Action for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) and commit to their principles of Reconciliation. Just as importantly, the new Indigenous Community Engagement Program’s mandate involved addressing the Federal Government’s Indigenous Justice Program objectives.
Through my work, five Calls to Action were implemented – as well as five of the 10 principles of Reconciliation set out by the TRC – while securing funds to keep projects running until 2022, well beyond my departure from the organization in 2020.
As an elected leader, I have made it a priority to continue this justice work through my position on the Vancouver Police Department (VPD) Indigenous Advisory Committee, whose role is to provide recommendations on VPD policies and protocols that impact Indigenous peoples within the city of Vancouver. Among other recommendations, these include officer training, wellness checks, homelessness outreach and supports for drug users.
On a more personal level, I’ll add that while my mother and I have both earned Master’s degrees, no one in my father’s immediate family completed any post-secondary education. So this was an important milestone, especially among my father’s side. My family supported me financially throughout my university studies, but navigating student life was difficult without knowing whom to gain insight or mentorship from. The result? I generally kept to myself around campus, but learned to lean on and take guidance from a few trusted peers and extended family within the Musqueam community.
Throughout my time at UBC, I was challenged in many ways – with university bringing out many important skills and strengths as a professional, while also challenging me to improve the skills I lacked.
And in recognizing all those who guided me during my time at UBC, I am – and always will be – an advocate and role model for Indigenous youth who are seeking professional success. My advice for youth? To not blindly apply to UBC, but to find a place that feels like it could become your second home.
If I were to think critically on my time at UBC, I know there are many factors that led to my current success, such as the ability to balance work-school life in my later years of undergrad and graduate studies – as well as the ability to match my professional opportunities with my academic studies.
When I reflect on my time as a student, it becomes clear that UBC contributed to my success by creating a space that made me feel comfortable and at home. During those long school days with 8-plus hours of lectures when I was unable to return home in between classes, the Indigenous House of Learning became a place I could eat, talk to peers, and even take naps when needed.
University life is stressful, and it takes more than just smarts to succeed academically; it takes tremendous patience, discipline, time-management, accountability and emotional intelligence to understand what you need to keep your sanity during those long nights studying before final exams. Another important key to this success? For me, it was finding a second home at university with like-minded individuals who can join you on your academic journey.