As Leanne Julian stood outside as part of a group of geography students listening to Mt. Lehman community members explain how they wanted to present their community to the world, she could literally see her father’s home community, the Matsqui First Nation, not far in the distance.
But nobody else seemed to notice.
Julian was taking part in a planning course taught by Cherie Enns, where students were working with the Mt. Lehman community on strategies to promote this rural corner of Abbotsford.
“In all the talk about their community vision, they did not mention what their relation was to the surrounding First Nations communities, even though I knew they were situated in the traditional territory of the Matsqui people,” Julian said.
She gently challenged them on that, which led to her organizing a town hall dinner that brought together members of the Matsqui First Nation and the Mount Lehman community.
Ens said the impact of that session was significant.
“Since then, Leanne has been both an ambassador and a light in every setting where I have observed her,” she said.
“The light she shines might not always be comfortable, but by her presence, commitment to truth, and knowledge, she is paying a key role in Indigenization at UFV and helping me to decolonize my curriculum.”
Julian is the 2019 recipient of the Lieutenant Governor’s Medal at the University of the Fraser Valley.
The criteria for the medal includes student involvement in promoting diversity, inclusion, and reconciliation.
Her willingness to share Indigenous knowledge that is “ingrained in (her) brain” is part of what earned her the medal.
“Some of my professors have said that I bring to a course as much as I take from it,” Julian said.
“As I get older, I realize that a lot of what my mother and grandparents were teaching me were Indigenous ways of life and knowing, and that comes out in my approach to my studies.”
Her post-secondary journey has been a lengthy one.
She graduated June 4 with a bachelor of general studies, with a thematic option in global Indigenous geography.
She has also completed minors in geography, and indigenous studies, and Halq’emeylem and Indigenous maps, rights, films, and land claims certificates.
Julian began taking courses in 2004, when she completed the family childcare certificate.
Having caught the education bug, she started taking psychology and business courses, but “life got in the way” and she ended up dropping her courses.
Julian tried again in the mid-2000s, but childcare for her young daughter was a challenge and she didn’t make it to the end of the semester.
She had two more children, and when the youngest was five in 2014, she decided to give university another try, with encouragement and funding from Sts’ailes, her home community.
This included strong encouragement from her First Nations studies professor Gwen Point (who later became UFV’s chancellor).
Point expressed confidence in Julian, urging her to continue her education and noting that she saw the same leadership traits in her as Point had seen in Julian’s late grandfather Bill William, who was the first elected and longest-serving chief of Sts’ailes.
Still, there were struggles. She was juggling full-time school with full-time work and parenting, with a blended family of eight children and numerous grandchildren, several of whom live with her and her fiance at their home on the Tzeachten First Nation.
Julian faced further struggles when her mom passed away in 2015 and her grandmother and spouse’s grandmother in 2018.
“But the closer I got to the end, I’d keep telling myself, ‘Don’t’ stop now. You’re almost done!’ :
As she progressed through her general studies degree, she noticed that she brought an Indigenous knowledge aspect to many of her projects, topics, and courses.
“And when I talk about Indigenous, I don’t just mean the Stó:lō /Coast Salish culture I grew up in,” she said.
I have also examined Indigenous ways of knowing among the first peoples of Australia, Japan, and Scotland. When I was studying the relationship of folklore to geography in Scotland, it was similar to the Stó:lō stories of landforms.”
Julian plans to work for the time being as an Aboriginal support worker for the Abbotsford School District, but hopes to pursue a master’s degree in geography or urban planning in the future.