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Eighteen Years Ago, Gonzaga Heeded the Call of the Canim Lake Band of Canada

Gonzaga University answered the call from the Native Canadians at Canim Lake, British Columbia, and brought education to their people. In May 1993, 21 members of the First Nation band of Canim Lake graduated from Gonzaga. Sister Mary Alice Danaher (front row, second from left) was a driving force behind the effort. Danaher was a sister of the Congregation of Notre Dame and the Education Coordinator for the Canim Lake Indian Band.

Gonzaga University answered the call from the Native Canadians at Canim Lake, British Columbia, and brought education to their people. In May 1993, 21 members of the First Nation band of Canim Lake graduated from Gonzaga. Sister Mary Alice Danaher (front row, second from left), a sister of the Congregation of Notre Dame, was a driving force behind the effort. Photo Courtesy Gonzaga University Archives.

Looking Back to See Forward to Gonzaga’s 125th Anniversary (Quasquicentennial) in 2012

1992-1993

Looking forward to Gonzaga University’s Quasquicentennial Celebration (125th anniversary) in 2012, @Gonzaga continues its series counting back to its founding year, 1887. This series began in September when we looked back six years to the 2004-05 academic year. In October, we traveled  back in time another six years to review the 1998-99 academic year. This issue travels back in time another six years to view highlights of the 1992-93 academic year.

SPOKANE, Wash. — Twenty-one Canadian Indians from the Shuswap, the First Nation band of Canim Lake, British Columbia, received Gonzaga University bachelor’s degrees at commencement in 1993, marking the culmination of a seven-year challenge.

For seven consecutive years, Gonzaga faculty traveled 100 miles north of Kamloops, B.C. to Canim Lake to bring higher education to the students, and for seven years the students packed up with their families to come to Spokane for intensive eight-week summer sessions at Gonzaga.

All this work was for a goal greater than a diploma. The Canim Lake Indians sought to regain full control of educating their children to revitalize their culture and control their destiny. At that time, only one of the teachers in their community was Shuswap. The language of the Canim Lake people was disappearing and most of their traditional fishing and hunting grounds were lost. High school dropouts, teen suicide and pregnancies all were rising, and alcohol abuse brought further heartbreak.

Then, in 1978, the Band opened an alternative high school on the reserve, and the next year decided to start its own elementary and secondary programs. The federal government funded construction of a “Speqmimc” or “Little Swan,” a one-room schoolhouse that would became Gonzaga’s campus. Still, the band felt they needed more of their people teaching for their culture to survive. In 1980, they asked several Canadian universities to consider bringing a program to the reserve to no avail. Then the band approached Gonzaga.

At first, they were told it was impossible. But ex-Chief Gabriel Christopher was insistent, so Jeanne Wardian, then dean of education, gained the support of then Academic Vice President Peter Ely, S.J., and then President Bernard J. Coughlin, S.J., and the program was born.

Eleven Shuswap students who graduated in 1993 had a teaching emphasis; the other 10 studied business.

“We’re role models now,” said Marcella McGrath, who graduated with three siblings.

Other Highlights of the 1992-93 Academic Year

  • The 1992 incoming freshman class was Gonzaga’s most geographically diverse ever with students from 31 states and 46 countries. Approximately 41 percent were native to Washington, marking the first time Washingtonians did not make up at least half of the class. The freshman class had the University’s best academic profile in Gonzaga history (to that date).
  • Construction began in April ’92 on a $4.2 million, two-story, 34,800 square-foot School of Education building, now known as the Rosauer Center.
  • Plans were drawn for the new Jundt Art Center and Museum. Gallery space, a ceramics studio, a printmaking studio, and classroom space were included.
  • The Foley Center Library opened in fall 1992 and the Crosby Library reopened as the Crosby Student Center in February 1993.

  1. Posted December 9, 2010 at 4:09 pm

    I have been living and working at Canim Lake with the Shuswap people from 1989 until 2004. I am very aware of their courage in pursuing their education . It has paid off. Mary Alice Danaher and Gabriel Ray Archie were so convinced that education was the key to the future for the Band and for all who wanted to make their lifes better and to be able to help others. I will always remember the day that the Canim Lake group was drummed in at the University ceremony. Thank you, Canim Lake people for your example. Thank you, all the staff of Gonzaga for your work and positive attitude towards our beloved Shuswap people.

    Pierrette Boissé, CND