UBC appoints former Indigenous judge and youth advocate as History and Dialogue Centre director

Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, a former judge and youth advocate of Cree and Scottish heritage, will serve as the UBC Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Centre’s (IRSHDC) first director.

Her appointment came after the IRSCHDC’s opening on April 9, which was hosted alongside an apology from UBC President Santa Ono about the university’s systemic support for the residential school system. Turpel-Lafond previously served as a provincial judge in Saskatchewan, joining the UBC community in March when she became a professor at the Allard School of Law.

As BC’s previous — and first — representative for children and youth, her work has centred around the needs and challenges of Indigenous communities in the legal system. She also worked on mitigating the effects of the residential school system through “child welfare reform, language revitalization and criminal justice innovation,” according to UBC’s press release.

“Mary Ellen has been a tireless advocate for vulnerable children and for Indigenous rights in the legal system, making her the ideal candidate to lead the IRSHDC and an exemplary addition to the Allard School of Law,” said Ono.

As the IRSHDC’s director, she will be responsible for facilitating access to Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s records for survivors, continuing educating the UBC community about the inter-generational trauma created by the residential school system, and addressing its effects.

“This opportunity to deepen the dialogue and respond to the legacy of residential schools is historic,” she said in the press release.

“The university community at UBC, the learning community nationally, and civil society, must continue to engage with survivors, families and communities on their experiences, thus ensuring the legacy is critically examined and intergenerational consequences are understood and addressed.”

Turpel-Lafond will also be bringing the expertise she has gained through her legal work and advocacy to the new role.

“With understanding will come dialogue on necessary actions for recognizing and respecting Indigenous peoples’ human rights and the revitalization of Indigenous languages, education systems, laws, cultures and self-determination,” she said.

“The child welfare issues alone are a matter recognized recently by the Government of Canada as a humanitarian crisis experienced today but connected to the legacy of these schools.”

Her term will begin on June 1.