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Arts Diploma Alumna
Kim Baird was the first person in her community to graduate from high school in over 20 years.
A self-described apathetic high school student, she was unsure of what to do or take, so she enrolled in general arts studies at Kwantlen College (as it was known in the 1980s) because it offered a wide breadth of subjects: philosophy, psychology, criminology, history, political science.
Immediately, her studies tapped into a subject Kim cared deeply about: her home, the Tsawwassen First Nation.
"My political consciousness awoke while I was in college," says Kim. "I was working on papers on my community of Tsawwassen. I learned about colonization, land claims processes and why there are such poor economic conditions for Aboriginal peoples."
Kim graduated from Kwantlen in 1992 with an Arts Diploma and the knowledge and determination to improve the lives of her people.
She had already started along a path of leadership, vision and change by the time she graduated.
She started working for her community in 1990 and by 1999, Kim was elected Chief of the Tsawwassen First Nation. At just 28 years old, she was the youngest woman to hold that position. She remained chief for over 13 years and in that time laid the groundwork for an economic boom worth hundreds of millions of dollars by negotiating and implementing British Columbia's first urban modern treaty.
Less than two decades ago, the Tsawwassen First Nation community lacked adequate water supply, sidewalks and even streetlights. Development had stagnated because local utilities and municipalities wouldn't negotiate with the Tsawwassen First Nation.
Like most First Nations, the Tsawwassen were governed by the Canada Indian Act of 1876, which is a poor form of-governance. Real estate investors shied away from brokering deals because there was too much uncertainty surrounding land titles, development and approval processes.
Kim realized the only way forward was to spell out in legal documents the rights of the Tsawwassen people. Utilizing skills she gained from her studies at Kwantlen, Kim successfully negotiated the first urban Aboriginal treaty in Canada, which many experts consider pivotal to the future of native land claims in B.C.
Kim's time at her alma mater spent poring over political academic texts, reasoning out logical arguments in philosophy and political science courses and putting them to paper were transferable skills that helped her navigate the technical jargon of the Tsawwassen treaty. Her course load provided her with foundational skills that include reading, research, analysis, writing and most importantly critical thinking.
"Negotiating the treaty gave us land rights, cash, jurisdiction and crown title ", explains Kim. "Our rights are quite defined so you can identify and enforce them."
The results are staggering. Since the treaty was signed in 2007, full-time employment has increased from 39 per cent to almost full employment. The Tsawwassen Mills shopping centre, a project Kim initiated, is currently estimated to be a $780-million project. There's a master-planned residential development well underway with luxury homes starting at $600,000. The Tsawwassen First Nation is also expanding a logistics centre serving Canada's busiest commercial port.
Recognized with KPU's Distinguished Alumni award in 2012, Kim continues to be an ambassador for KPU. She personalizes the KPU experience for others who are considering post-secondary education: "I tell people that KPU is a less intimidating experience than a large university. The smaller campuses, closer to home, are more accessible."
Today, Kim runs her own consulting firm, advising government bodies and other First Nations groups, while raising three young daughters on the Tsawwassen reserve she worked tirelessly to raise out of poverty and into prosperity. For her efforts she was named to the Order of Canada and the Order of British Columbia.
And it all started with a young woman who wanted to provide basic infrastructure for her community.