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Sechelt Elder Theresa Jeffries is 2011 Eldercollege speaker

At 80, Sechelt Indian Band Elder Theresa Jeffries (Sxixaxay, her Sechelt name) is a very important part of the cultural and educational work of the Band, which makes her a perfect choice for speaker at this year's Clifford Smith Memorial Lecture on S

At 80, Sechelt Indian Band Elder Theresa Jeffries (Sxixaxay, her Sechelt name) is a very important part of the cultural and educational work of the Band, which makes her a perfect choice for speaker at this year's Clifford Smith Memorial Lecture on Sept. 17.

This year's event will have a slightly different flavour than past lectures. Jeffries will be in conversation facilitated by Candace Campo, a Sechelt artist, entrepreneur and fellow keeper of the Sechelt culture.

Jeffries has been a passionate spokesperson for First Nations women and youth for most of her long life.

Lenora Joe, head of the Band's education department, is one of Jeffries' many admirers.

"Theresa speaks so well and so elaborately. She was trained by her elders to be a strong female ambassador for our Nation. Theresa was told from a very early age she had to educate herself," Joe explained.

Joe, who will introduce Jeffries at the lecture, also has a strong background with the educational and cultural affairs of the Sechelt people. In the past, Joe was a school board trustee for six years; during that time she worked with Clifford Smith, past superintendent of School District No. 46, whom the lecture commemorates.

"I have such respect and esteem for him," she said.

Because of the importance of education to the Band, Joe said her department is looking at different ways to connect with the local school district as well as Capilano University. The university, in turn, is reaching out to First Nations. Eldercollege, a program of the university, is sponsoring the lecture, and Jeffries, an elder with a passion for education, was a perfect fit for the event.

Jeffries' resume is a long and amazing one. Perhaps the most important cause Jeffries championed was the striking down of the section of the Indian Act that stripped women of their Status if they married a non-Status man. Ironically the same legislation gave non-Status women who married Status men full rights under the Indian Act.

In 1979 Jeffries, who had never considered herself anything but a full-fledged Sechelt Indian Band member, applied to be reinstated to the Band after her marriage to a non-Status person.

"Little did I know in 1962 when choosing to marry an Indian man, I should have questioned whether he was an Indian according to government guidelines," Jeffries wrote in an open letter to her people in 1979.

Through the Indian Act, Section 12 (1)(b), according to statistics compiled in the late '70s, over 8,500 women lost their Status between 1955 and 1975. It took until 1985 for this discriminatory legislation to be revised.

Jeffries was educated in the residential school for the first eight grades. Then she was the first student from the Sechelt Indian Band to go to high school in the village of Sechelt. At the time, the United Church operated the one-room schoolhouse. Jeffries credited her grandfather with being the person who pushed her to further her education.

"There's a whole world out there to learn from," Jeffries remembered him saying.

Both Joe and Jeffries said the legacy from the residential school is a sad one. Children were punished for speaking their native language, they were not allowed contact with their siblings, and even though the school was walking distance from their homes, the pupils were required to live at the school during the education session and were frequently abused.

When Jeffries went into local schools to teach Sechelt Band children their language, it was quickly discovered that the pupils had no one at home to practise the knowledge with - their parents did not know their language.

And while times are changing, Joe said it's still difficult for some to embrace education when it was forced on people in a way that did not seem natural. However, seeing the "wow" in students' faces when they learn new things is amazing, Joe said.

For both women, the young people's need to know where they've come from and what their history is are driving forces in the Band's education policies.

"You've got to know your background and be proud of it before you go forward," Jeffries said.

Jeffries knows this well. For over 60 years, she has involved herself in her history, language and education. Her resume lists over 13 different skill sets the interesting elder has utilized over the years. She is fluent in dealing with all levels of government, and her memories will be fascinating to the audience on Sept. 17. For best of all, Jeffries is an oral historian.

"The uniqueness of Theresa is you put her in any setting and she'll have a story," Joe said.

Everyone is welcome to attend the free event at 2 p.m. at the Sechelt Indian Band Hall.