Dr. Joseph Arthur Gosnell has been named as the seventh chancellor of the University of Northern British Columbia (UNBC).
The Nisga’a hereditary chief is also the first Indigenous leader to take on the role at the university. He will be sworn in at the convocation ceremony in Prince George on May 31.
“I’m looking forward to the challenge,” says Gosnell. “I’ve never done this type of work before but in my life I’ve never backed away from a chance to hopefully add some Indigenous knowledge.”
As the ceremonial head at the university, he will be responsible for meeting with senior staff, chairing meetings for various boards and speaking at important events such as graduations.
“Dr. Gosnell has made tremendous contributions to the lives of Northern British Columbians and indeed people across the country,” says Tracey Wolsey, UNBC Board of Governors Chair. “To have him agree to serve as our Chancellor is a tremendous honour for the UNBC community.”
Chancellors are appointed by a board of governors through a lengthy process, which includes many nominations and consultations.
Gosnell says he didn’t know his name had been put forward until he received a call last month from UNBC offering him the position. His only connection to the university was when he represented the Nisga’a council and attended the university’s official opening in 1994, attended by Queen Elizabeth II.
He says he’s been reflecting on how he can positively contribute to the university and the ways he can help teach more people about First Nations’ culture.
“I think it’s important to assist and hopefully inspire young people who are thinking of coming to UNBC to further their education,” says Gosnell. “Some of the things that I’ve been thinking about is the possibility of trying to inject some Indigenous knowledge into the university. I know it’s already happening, but we all need a boost once in a while.”
At 82 years old, Gosnell says he has many experiences and insight to bring as a chancellor. As the hereditary chief of the Laxts’imilx Laxsgiik (Beaver/Eagle) band of the Nisga’a Nation, he was elected as the first president of the Nisga’a Lisims Government and was a part of the negotiations that led to the Nisga’a Treaty signing in 1998, the first modern treaty in Canada.
Alongside a long list of accomplishments, he has received the Queen Elizabeth II Golden Jubilee Medal in 2002, the Order of British Columbia in 1999, Officer of the Order of Canada in 2001, Companion of the Order of Canada in 2007, and has received seven honorary law doctorates from the University of Victoria and Simon Fraser University, among others.
“I have been a controversial person for a long time during the course of the negotiations of the treaty and other things that I have done,” he says. “All that added up to what I’m gearing myself up to do.”
Before the treaty was signed, he says the Nisga’a council fought but failed to introduce Indigenous language teachings and culture into the school district in the 1970s. Now, as a fluent Nisga’a speaker, he’s been encouraged by UNBC to speak his native language at ceremonies and to university staff.
“Today, the teachings of Aboriginal culture and Indigenous languages are commonplace right across the country. But when our group started, it was an uphill battle all the way,” he says. “I think it’s something that I never expected to happen, but here I am.”