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Musqueam Voices: Celeste Haldane, K.C., a Champion For Education

By: Celeste Haldane

My name is Celeste Haldane. I am Musqueam (Coast Salish) and Metlakatla from the Sparrow and Haldane families. I also have European ancestry. I am a mother and a grandmother. I am the Chief Commissioner of the BC Treaty Commission. UBC played a key role in my life, and led me to this position.


My trek to UBC was a little bit different than most. I started out as a mature student at Langara College. I had the opportunity to participate in the Bridging Program, I guess you could say for Indigenous students and those that needed a little bit of extra help; for example, I don't have a grade twelve education. 


I started there in 1995, when I was pregnant with my daughter, who was born that year. So that was an interesting experience. I persevered to raise my daughter as well as going to school full time.

Having my daughter helped to ground me to move along the academic and the educational path. I wanted to make sure that I could build a brighter future for myself, but  also for her. She was the underpinning of me wanting to continue with education. I became a single parent when I was at UBC. I continued my studies while I was pregnant with my second child, my son, which was not an easy pregnancy, but I had a ton of supporters and people to champion behind me.


And part of that came from my community. Without the support that I received from my family to help propel me forward, and without that strength, I think it would've been really hard. My mom's always been my champion. And so it's also her rallying behind me; And of course my dad, my sister and my brother. This strong family support continued to encourage me to go, even when I felt like I just didn't want to, or when things were really challenging. On the academic side, support came from professors like Bruce Miller, as my undergrad professor, who supported me while I was majoring in anthropology, finishing out my last year while pregnant, and having to bring my baby to class because he was too young for daycare. This was not very conventional at the time. But Bruce, he was very supportive all the same.


Knowing that I have people to support me, made the journey that much richer, more heartfelt, and also, gave me the courage to continue.


There was never a time where I thought that I was just going to completely give up. Realizing that I have a next generation coming up, I needed to be strong for them; they needed a role model that was strong, resilient, independent, who could balance family with school, even going through all the struggles I did.


We all come from different backgrounds and perspectives; we've overcome different challenges; and we have to have a sense of perseverance to endure. I am a big believer that we're all going to fall down, but it's how you get back up and brush yourself off – that’s what matters. Who's going to be there to hold you up, lift you up, and support you? That was one of the biggest learning lessons that I had. How do I create that healthy support system? Because it's not going to create itself. I have to be the advocate to create that support system, to make sure that I'm continuing to move forward and doing what I set out to do and being very creative in that whole process.


Awards and bursaries became extremely helpful and valuable to me at UBC. I was a single parent.We often, as Indigenous learners, tend to move away from home, going into city centres that aren't necessarily our home community. So there's disruption, even though our community responsibilities and our family responsibilities don't end. We tend to be an older demographic entering into academia. Merit-based scholarships are not necessarily attainable for us mature Indigenous learners. I hope that people start to realize that not all of us get support and resources from our first nations communities. That is a misperception. A lot do rely on student loans, scholarships, and bursaries. And I am hopeful that we'll be able to break down the barriers where we have more support for Indigenous learners.


UBC is really invested in rebuilding relationships with Indigenous peoples.Well, it wasn't necessarily as friendly back in the day. Some of us had different experiences as Indigenous learners, versus today. I'm glad to see those changes taking place. I mean, there's some work that we can all be doing to learn from one another to walk the path of reconciliation. When we have a community such as UBC, that's so diverse, I think it's really important to honour and recognize the territory that we reside on; the territory that we're learning on, but also that there's so much more that we can be learning from each other.


Education's always been important for me and supporting educational pursuits is important to me - making sure that my children understand that education is vital, but whatever path they choose, is also important to support.I think whatever you want to pursue, you should have those opportunities. And that's what I've always instilled in my children.

It is about building communities, building relationships, and volunteering where you can because that just makes us such a stronger society; and a stronger civil society makes us a stronger country. And that's a part of our cultural teachings, as well, around respect and reciprocity.

I've been involved in treaty negotiations and Aboriginal title and rights even before I was in university, but of course that was the impetus for me to actually pursue anthropology and become a lawyer - to be  part of Indigenous rights and Indigenous title, especially around the time I was in university when there was a lot of conflict over lands and resources. And this brought me through a pathway of my career, so to speak, landing here as the chief commissioner of the BC Treaty Commission, an independent body that facilitates treaty negotiations between Canada, British Columbia, and First Nations in the province.


There will be challenges that come up in your life that seem so insurmountable, that you cannot get over. You think you are never gonna be able to get past that, but you will. And the biggest part of that is making sure that you've created the support network that you need. And sometimes you have to make the really hard decisions on excluding those that don't support you, and learn to create those boundaries.

Because that's another thing: We often tend to want to be friends with everyone, please everyone, or do everything. Sometimes you have to learn to say, “no.” And that's one of the most challenging lessons that I've learned is to be able to say no, to exclude when necessary. Not that I don't listen to those other voices that don't necessarily champion me. You just don't have to own what is being said, or what is being projected on you. So it's about creating healthy boundaries, too.

I'm also pretty optimistic as you can probably tell and I think that's a big factor, too. I think that's a big mindset thing. I just try to be as optimistic as I possibly can because, I think that if you set yourself up in that type of mindset, it's easier to continue to get over those roadblocks or those issues or those life circumstances that come up that we think are going to be so insurmountable. And we are going to have those; we are going to have tragedies in our lives. We are going to lose people that we deeply, deeply love. And it impacts us in so many different ways. We've all been through a pandemic. Who knew, in our lifetime, that we would be in this lockdown scenario and worried about our future as a planet. Those experiences though, make us stronger; the ones that don't break us just make us stronger.

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