Lit­tle Bear named to Or­der of Canada

Prairie Post (West Edition) - - Prairies - BY DAVE MABELL

An Abo­rig­i­nal ed­u­ca­tion leader from south­ern Al­berta is be­ing hon­oured across Canada.

Leroy Lit­tle Bear, a found­ing mem­ber of the na­tion’s first uni­ver­sity-based Na­tive Amer­i­can Stud­ies pro­gram, has been named to the Or­der of Canada.

Now serv­ing as a spe­cial ad­viser to the pres­i­dent of the Uni­ver­sity of Leth­bridge, Lit­tle Bear has earned recog­ni­tion as an in­ter­na­tional scholar and a speaker, as well as a pi­o­neer in ad­vanc­ing post­sec­ondary ed­u­ca­tion for First Na­tions stu­dents.

His lat­est hon­our, an­nounced in Ot­tawa, fol­lows an Al­berta Or­der of Ex­cel­lence ci­ta­tion, a “Key to the City” pre­sen­ta­tion by Leth­bridge City Coun­cil, and hon­ourary de­grees from the U of L and the Uni­ver­sity of North­ern B.C.

Lit­tle Bear was also named “Dis­tin­guished Alum­nus of the Year” by the U?of L’s alumni as­so­ci­a­tion in 2003 and was pre­sented the U of L?Speaker Re­search Award in 2017.

In 2003, he also re­ceived the Na­tional Abo­rig­i­nal Achieve­ment Award for Ed­u­ca­tion.

In an in­ter­view, Lit­tle Bear re­calls start­ing classes at U of L in Jan­uary 1968 — in just the sec­ond se­mes­ter at the new uni­ver­sity.

Rec­og­niz­ing the need to at­tract Abo­rig­i­nal stu­dents, the uni­ver­sity pres­i­dent asked Lit­tle Bear how to pro­ceed. Work­ing with found­ing pro­fes­sors, Lit­tle Bear helped lay plans for the Na­tive Amer­i­can Stud­ies de­part­ment, launched of­fi­cially in 1975.

Af­ter com­plet­ing his un­der­grad­u­ate stud­ies at the U of L and earn­ing a law de­gree in the U.S., Lit­tle Bear re­turned to Leth­bridge to be­come a found­ing mem­ber of the new de­part­ment.

“Lit­tle Bear breathed life into Abo­rig­i­nal schol­ars by de­vel­op­ing eth­i­cal, re­spect­ful and rig­or­ous Abo­rig­i­nal pro­grams,” uni­ver­sity of­fi­cials say.

Af­ter serv­ing many years as a re­searcher, fac­ulty mem­ber and de­part­ment head, he re­tired of­fi­cially in 1997 — but con­tin­ued his work as an ad­vo­cate for First Na­tions ed­u­ca­tion. Leav­ing briefly to the U.S., he served as di­rec­tor of the Na­tive Amer­i­can Stud­ies pro­gram at Har­vard.

Then Lit­tle Bear re­turned to the U of L to help cre­ate its Bach­e­lor of Man­age­ment in First Na­tions Gov­er­nance pro­gram — an­other first in Canada.

“I still serve on sev­eral com­mit­tees,” he says, as well as tak­ing part in many spe­cial events on cam­pus.

He re­mains a role model and men­tor to count­less First Na­tions, Inuit and Metis stu­dents who have made the U of L their uni­ver­sity of choice. But the sit­u­a­tion to­day is very dif­fer­ent than when Lit­tle Bear at­tended his first classes.

“That has been one of the big­gest ac­com­plish­ments that the Na­tive Amer­i­can Stud­ies de­part­ment has had.”

To­day, Lit­tle Bear points out, the num­ber of non­na­tive stu­dents tak­ing NAS cour­ses ex­ceeds their Abo­rig­i­nal en­rol­ment. And that in­creases aware­ness not just within the stu­dent body, but among the gen­eral pub­lic.

“Truth and rec­on­cil­i­a­tion is some­thing that the U of L has been do­ing long be­fore the Truth and Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion Com­mis­sion.”

Al­ways open to a new chal­lenge, Lit­tle Bear and his wife Amethyst First Rider were suc­cess­ful in bring about a Buf­falo Treaty among First Na­tions on both sides of the U.S. bor­der.

Now they’re ex­cited to see the buf­falo that were rein­tro­duced in Banff Na­tional Park have been set free to find their own habi­tat.

Lit­tle Bear says he’s look­ing for­ward to more buf­falo restora­tion work in the com­ing year. Their on­cemighty herds were the ba­sis of Black­foot sto­ries, songs and le­gends, he points out.

See­ing them re­turn to some of their orig­i­nal ter­ri­tory is a sign of progress, as First Na­tions across the plains work to re­cover some of their lost tra­di­tions and knowl­edge.

“Buf­falo were our key­stone an­i­mal.”

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