First Nations elder earns honorary degree from KPU for making dreams reality

Fri, Sep 29, 2017

Metro Vancouver, B.C. – June Laitar is a self-confessed dreamer. But sometimes, dreams come true.

“Aboriginal culture and Aboriginal perspectives are entrenched in our local communities, and that is due in large part to the extensive work of June Laitar,” notes Kwantlen Polytechnic University (KPU) president and vice-chancellor Dr. Alan Davis.

KPU is poised to award an honorary degree to Laitar at its fall convocation ceremony on Oct. 4. The degree is in recognition of her outstanding service to the community, which includes playing a leadership role in the development of affordable housing, support services, and cultural amenities for Aboriginal families in Surrey and Delta.

From the Ojibwe Nation in Kenora, Ontario, Laitar was raised by her grandmother, who taught her how to live off the land and also how to live in harmony with it. When Laitar moved to Surrey as an adult, she was unprepared for the culture shock and seeking help, found there was little available for First Nations people.

Seeing a challenge, Laitar gathered together other First Nations elders and people in the community for the purpose of developing much-needed resources. A founding member of the National Aboriginal Housing Association, in 1986 she helped develop the Kekinow Native Housing Society, which now provides 199 units of affordable housing in six residential complexes.

Laitar was also instrumental in the development of the Surrey Aboriginal Cultural Society, where people could come together and share stories with one another. Eventually, the Kla-how-eya Aboriginal Centre, a part of the Surrey Aboriginal Cultural Society, was developed. Kla-how-eya served as a centre for the resurgence of Aboriginal culture and social services to the Surrey and Delta Aboriginal communities. These early organizations eventually became what is now known as the Fraser Region Aboriginal Friendship Centre, whose mission is to support activities that promote the health and well-being of Aboriginal People and to promote the resurgence of resident Aboriginal culture, language and teachings.

“June is a change agent,” said KPU’s VP of external affairs, Marlyn Graziano, who nominated Laitar for the honorary degree. “Rather than simply accepting insufficient community services, she took action and created positive change.”

Laitar was a member of KPU’s board of governors between 1997 and 2003. Currently, she sits on the Aboriginal Leadership Committee that helps to guide the development of the Surrey Urban Aboriginal Social Innovation Strategy of the City of Surrey. The objective of this strategy is to build and strengthen relationships at all levels of the community and to improve the economic participation, educational attainment and health outcomes for the Aboriginal population in Surrey.

She has also been a member of the city’s diversity and inclusivity committee, the Surrey School District’s Aboriginal advisory committee, Fraser Region Aboriginal planning committee for children and families, and the Stó:lō Nation advisory committee of Human Resources Development Canada.

Laitar has won many awards over her 35 years of service to her community, including a Surrey Civic Treasure Award, but this is her first honorary degree.

A photo of June Laitar is available on Flickr.

Honorary degrees are awarded to those honoris causa in recognition of dignified achievements or outstanding service to the public. Members of the university community and the community at large are invited to nominate candidates. Nominees are exceptionally distinguished scholars, creative artists, public servants, prominent people in the community and the professions, and others who have made significant contributions locally, nationally or globally.

Story by Corry Anderson-Fennell