Dr. Lorna Wanosts’a7 Williams

Education (2018)

Lil’wat Nation, British Columbia 

“We know the power of education, its power to destroy and its power to heal and thrive. We are still here because we continue to practice our powerful traditional forms of learning and teaching to be a good contributing member of community.”

Dr. Lorna Wanosts’a7 Williams is Professor Emerita of Indigenous Education, Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Victoria and Canada Research Chair in Education and Linguistics. She has been living and breathing the Calls to Action on education and language since before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was ever imagined. She built her career on the principle that quality education for Indigenous children must be characterized by strong cultural teachings alongside a Euro-Western education.

As a child, Wanosts’a7 was sent to Indian Day School and then to residential school at St. Joseph’s Mission, where her Lil’wat language was lost. Shortly after returning home from residential school, she was hospitalized for hepatitis and community elders assisted her recovery and relearning of her language. In turn, she became an English interpreter for the elders in her community. Lorna helped to develop the writing system for Lil’wat and co-authored the first curriculum and learning resources for teachers to teach the language in school. These materials continue to be used to teach today.

In 1973, Wanosts’a7 was instrumental in opening Mount Currie’s band-controlled school, only the second First Nations community in Canada to do so. The school delivered an innovative curriculum including Lil’wat and Euro-Canadian knowledge, history, and values, with instruction given in both Lil’wat and English. Each course was carefully negotiated to ensure that they did not colonize Lil’wat children.

At the University of Victoria, Dr. Williams initiated and led the development of Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Indigenous Language Revitalization, and a Master’s in Counseling in Indigenous Communities. She also initiated, designed, and implemented a mandatory course in Indigenous Education for all teacher education students, leading to the requirement that all teacher education programs in British Columbia include an Indigenous Education course.