Queen's 1994 visit inspired Stephens to earn degree

June 4, 2019
The Wilxo’oskwhl Nisga’a Institute - UNBC Class of 2019.

Lydia Stephens launched her educational journey on a bright, summer day in August, 1994.

The University of Northern British Columbia was officially being opened in Prince George and included special guest, her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

Stephens remembers that day well, having travelled all the way from her home in the Nisga’a Nation.

“Walking through the halls, I said ‘one day I am going to graduate from this University,’” she recalls. “And it was such a beautiful experience that I knew I was going to graduate from UNBC.”

Twenty-five years later, Stephens walked through those same halls and crossed the stage on Friday. This time, she wore a white graduation hood, signifying the Bachelor of Arts degree in First Nations Studies she had received.

On Monday, she walked across the stage again in Nisga’a Nation where her post-secondary journey began at the Wilp Wilxo’oskwhl Nisga’a Institute in Gitwinksihlkw. 

Working at the Nisga’a Valley Health Authority, she began by taking one to two classes at a time. Determined to graduate this spring, she took six classes in her last set of courses.

In addition to receiving her BA on Monday, Stephens also earned certificates in Nisga’a Studies, First Nations Language: Nisga’a and General First Nations Studies.

Stephens was one of four graduates from WWNI who earned UNBC degree credentials in Bachelor of Arts in First Nations Studies in the graduation celebration.

She wouldn’t change a thing.

“What I’ll remember the most about my time at WWNI and UNBC is the time I had with my classmates and my colleagues,” she says. “It was fun, I enjoyed everything that I did at my courses at WWNI and UNBC. 

“I found that I love school. I love education. I loved the time I spent with the people I took classes with. “

Stephens is a community wellness counsellor at Nisga’a Valley Health. She’s fluent in Nisga’a – she can read, write and speak her language. 

“I use it for everything that I do,” she says. “I hope to specialize in language and culture. I’m hoping to do my Master’s this fall and change the colour of my hood.”

Ten graduates received a total of four UNBC degree credentials and 12 certificate credentials at WWNI on Monday.

Christina Bolton credits the fact that WWNI is in her home community, which allowed her to find success at the post-secondary level and receive a Bachelor of Arts degree in First Nations Studies.

“As a mother of three and working full-time, it gave me easier access to earn my degree,” she says. 

She enrolled in a language and culture course while I was working at an elementary school at the time and then she went to WWNI.

“What I’ll remember the most about my time at WWNI is the support system because it is in my home community, and I had some trying times over the last four years,” she says. “I think if I was in a bigger city or in Prince George, I don’t think I would’ve had the same support.”

When she began her degree, she originally planned to be a language teacher. She ended up getting hired in a political role. 

“Currently I’m a village government rep for our council and the language and culture courses I advocate for strongly for our people. Our people need that.”

Monday was a historic day at WWNI as Dr. Joseph Gosnell Sr., a well-respected and distinguished hereditary chief in the Laxts’imilx Laxsgiik (Beaver/Eagle) tribe of the Nisga’a Nation, was installed as UNBC’s seventh Chancellor on Friday in Prince George. 

As Chancellor, he helped confer the degrees of the graduates in his home community.

He encouraged the graduates to firmly defend the way they live their lives and not be afraid of change.

“Most people are afraid of change,” he said. “However change provides many opportunities you can all take advantage of.”