Bonnie Harvey, of the ?aq’am community, has been awarded the 2020 BC Achievement Community Award, for her work on behalf of the Ktunaxa language and culture.
The award recognizes contributions of “extraordinary British Columbians who build better, stronger, more resilient communities and shine as examples of dedication and service.”
Harvey, who serves as Education Ambassador for the Ktunaxa Nation, was nominated by Michelle Shortridge, director of Operations and Community Services for ?aq’am, and Jodi Gravelle, their chief operating officer.
Harvey said that when she first heard she’d won the award, she discussed it with her friend Vickie Thomas, and said she was reluctant to accept it.
“I said ‘I don’t want to do this — I don’t want to be boastful; I don’t want anybody to think that I’m better than them or that I’ve done better things than they have, their accomplishments,’” Harvey said.
But her friend encouraged Harvey to accept, saying that recognition of her focus on the Ktunaxa language — an isolate language — as well as her efforts on behalf of Ktunaxa Nation Communities would be of benefit to the language and Ktunaxa culture itself.
As Education Ambassador for the Education and Employment sector of the Ktunaxa Nation, Harvey provides support to the schools of the Lower Kootenay Band near Creston or in ?aq’am near Cranbrook.
She hopes this award helps shine some light on Ktunaxa language and culture.
“ … This not about Bonnie, and everything that I know and everything that I have done,” she said. “It’s all the knowledge that has been passed down to me from my mentors, like Dorothy Alpine, Elizabeth Gravelle, Leo Williams …
“All of those elders — those that are here and those that have passed on — have helped preserve the Ktunaxa language, and they’ve inspired me to be able to learn what I can and be able to share that.
“And that transfer of knowledge that has been shared with me I need to ensure that I share with others, in fun ways that helps a person retain the knowledge.”
Harvey has been a Ktunaxa Nation government employee for nearly nine years. She spent seven years as a Lands and Resource Stewardship Assistant in the Lands Sector.
In 2017 she learned of the role of education ambassador in the Education and Employment Sector.
“It was a whole new position,” she said. “This position has grown organically, and it’s neat that I get to go full circle; resources and things that I have been collecting for over my whole learning life around Ktunaxa, I am able to use now and be able to create fun resources and share with Indigenous students, non-indigenous students, and our Ktunaxa students.”
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As well as the communities near Cranbrook and Creston, her work takes her to many different locations, fromQukin ?amak?is, the Elk Valley in School District 5, up to Invermere in SD6 and Nelson in SD8.
She also supports their post-secondary institutions and work with the Indigenous team at College of the Rockies (COTR).
“We have many visitors, and we have many students are from here, but it’s great that I have the opportunity to be able to share that this is our Ktunaxa traditional territory and our Ktunax ?amak?is , and to welcome people to our Ktunaxa homelands.”
Harvey, like countless others around the world, has had her work impacted by the outbreak of COVID-19 — in fact the ceremony for this award has been postponed.
Right now, ?aq’am would normally be preparing for Ka kniⱡwi·tiyaⱡa (“Our Thinking”) — the band’s Strategic Plan. The celebration of this happens on the second Thursday in May, so unfortunately they will not be able to hold it.
“It’s an opportunity for us to get together, celebrate, acknowledge and honour the work that we have completed in the last year as well as being moved towards our strategic vision for the community,” she explained. “So we’re definitely missing being together as a community, but I appreciate that we have that tool, our strategic plan, that helps guide the work that we do to ensure that we are kept safe and that we try to do everything we can to keep our neighbours safe as well.”
Additionally, May would also have marked their second May Mining Event (MME), held in the Tobacco Plains community on May 24 to 26, which is postponed until 2021.
“Hopefully we’re able to do it in 2021, but that is one of my pride and joys of being Education Ambassador,” she said.
The MME provides an opportunity to Indigenous students, including Ktunaxa students, to go to the Tobacco Plains community where a dozen science and land-based stations are set up, that encourage them to start thinking beyond high school and what they can do in a post-secondary environment to support the mining industry.
“We don’t all have to be haul truck drivers, but we need biologists and we need skilled labourers and we’re trying to figure out how we can get them interested in a trades program,” Harvey explained. “We are really sad that we are not able to do thatthis year but we would like to work towards having an awesome, awesome session in 2021.”
Harvey said that she feels very fortunate that she’s able to work from home as a Ktunaxa Nation employee during this crisis, explaining that it’s given her the opportunity to focus on creating new resources she may not otherwise have been able to.
“Usually I’m travelling to different communities, sharing with them Ktunaxa legends, of who we are, what our connection is to land and water,” she said. “I’m usually on the go, but working from home and being at the workstation has allowed me to pull together resources and I’m excited. It’s a whole new chapter in my way of work and I’m looking forward to be able to unroll some resources to be able to share with our Ktunaxa schools.”
As well as her years of professional work with Ktunaxa Nation, the award also acknowledged Harvey’s countless hours of volunteer work. She serves as chair of k̓itki·ȼamnam, the Education Committee, so she supports ʔaq̓amnik, the St. Mary’s Band school, the ?aq’am education team and the community’s post-secondary students.
“I’ve been on the education board for many decades, and I really enjoy that role,” she said. “For our community governance structure I am the government teepee pole holder. The government teepee pole is one of our four foundation poles that we feel as ʔaq̓amnik are our core values. Governance , lands and resources, language and culture and spirit of community are the four foundation poles, the four foundation values that make us who we are, people of ʔaq’am.”
To close, Harvey said that the Ktunaxa do not have a word for extinct, and that by building meaningful, lasting relationships, such as with BC Achievement who presented her with the Community Award, it will help to preserve the language, so that no word is ever created for extinct.
“We don’t want the language to go extinct, so we look forward to working with our friends and other people would like to help us enhance our Ktunaxa language.”