It was hard not to gush when writing about the Honourable Steven Point and his visit to the Sunshine Coast last Saturday, Sept. 28, to deliver the Elder College address.
First off, there’s absolutely nothing officious about the former lieutenant governor. Point is about as down to earth as they come. Physically he resembles the comedian Bill Cosby — he has the same grace to his movements, kind of a soft-shoe shuffle way of walking and the same mischievous grin. Like Cosby, our former queen’s representative also has a unique sense of humour.
Point has a way of making people feel at ease. He also has an innate curiosity about the world around him and in particular First Nations people. No surprise there — Point was one of the first Aboriginal judges appointed in Canada, and he has also served as chief of the Skowkale Nation and tribal chair for the Sto:lo Nation. Under the affable exterior there’s a very warm heart and a sharp intellect.
Early in his days at Government House, the staff knew they’d met a different kind of dignitary when Thomas the butler had to beg Point to ask his wife Gwen to stop making the beds at the mansion. That wasn’t the only unusual occurrence at the staid residence. While there, the former chief carved a canoe and erected a totem in the garden. He also wrote a song for the people of B.C. and didn’t hesitate for a moment to belt it out the day he left office.
Point is no stranger to the challenges many First Nations folks face in our country. His own family has felt the sorrow of suicide; a son-in-law took his own life not long ago. Point calls the depression these young people feel a “loss of soul.” It’s an all too common malady among young Natives.
As with many great people, Point has demonstrated the ability to reach beyond his own personal circle to bring hope and help to other people. His literacy legacy speaks volumes about the measure of the man.
It was a happy day for many reservations in our province when Point met his aide-de-camp Bob Blacker, then district governor of Rotary District 5040, which includes most of the province. Point wanted to bring literacy to the far-flung corners of the province and Rotary, through its network of connections, made partnering with Government House to realize that dream a natural fit. As happens with many great ideas, this one has morphed beyond what either man could have imagined.
The Britco Company has been hugely generous, donating 10 trailers left over from the 2010 Olympics. Now kids have new books (many for the first time in their lives) and they also have libraries and community halls to meet in. Kids no longer have to leave to go to high school; they can use donated computers and be home schooled. For families still living with the after effects of the residential schools, that’s a huge deal.
The biggest accomplishment in all this is perhaps simply the knowledge many British Columbians now have of the conditions on reserves. We pride ourselves in this country of having and being the best of all the world’s peoples. We could take a dose of humility from our past lieutenant governor — what I take away from Steven Point is not who you are but what you can do. He shines a light of optimism wherever he goes. He personifies everything good about Canada.