Former B.C. representative for children and youth Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond (pictured in this 2016 file photo) is beginning a new job as the director for UBC’s new Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Centre. (CBC) B.C.’s former representative for children and youth, Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, has been appointed as the inaugural director of the University of British Columbia’s Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Centre and a professor with the Peter A. Allard School of Law.
The centre’s official opening earlier this month came with an apology from UBC president Santa Ono for the university’s role in the Indian residential school system, as well is the university’s inaction and complicit role in the system.
"The centre is not designed to be a teaching place, as much as it’s designed to be a hive of dialogue and collaboration," said Turpel-Lafond, who added that some seminars may take place there.
This is just another step in a storied career for Turpel-Lafond, who has practiced law, taught law at other universities, sat as a judge in Saskatchewan, and spent 10 years as representative for children and youth in B.C.
"The role as representative is one that I enjoyed immensely — it was huge pressure. I mean, I had 17,000 cases over a decade and they weren’t easy cases," she said. "It’s frustrating and challenging and things take time." Own life affected
Turpel-Lafond said she’s looking forward to continuing her work advocating for children and youth — especially Indigenous children and youth — in her new role, and she expects the position to be much more creative and open, compared to her work with the province.
Turpel-Lafond’s own life has been affected by the Indian residential school system. Her children have three grandparents who were sent to residential school, including her father.
"My generation … yes, we’ve been impacted by it in a variety of ways — in terms of grappling in my own family with addictions and family violence and, you know, all kinds of challenges," she said.
"But I think the bigger piece is looking to the future and imaging a time when people’s lives and opportunities aren’t limited by that experience, but still honour that experience."
Turpel-Lafond said she isn’t taking the new role as the centre’s director to tell her own story. She said it’s important to understand everyone’s experience who survived the Indian residential schools and their intergenerational impacts.
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