Cheryl Matthew, recently hired as associate director for indigenization at the Justice Institute of British Columbia in New Westminster, hails from the Simpcw First Nation near Barriere.
The town derives its name from the rocks/nets placed in the water by First Nations people to act as fish traps, forming a barrier to boat passage on the river. Matthew is a proud descendant of those who placed those fish-trap barriers from the Secwepemc Nation and has spent much of her own life breaking down barriers, which have often thwarted the progress and advancement of Aboriginal peoples.
When she graduated from Barriere Secondary School, she originally wanted to go into law. Inspired by the example of family members who had successfully pursued post-secondary education, she decided that she would follow in their ground-breaking footsteps.
“Two of my relatives completed master’s degrees at UBC in the mid-seventies,” said Cheryl. “For a person of Aboriginal descent to complete graduate studies today is still relatively rare. Back then, it was practically unheard of.”
After graduating with an Associate of Arts from Langara College, she completed her undergraduate studies at SFU, with a major in Anthropology (concentration on social policy Analysis). Having discovered a passion for social policy analysis, rather than law, and recognizing the contribution it would allow her to make within various Aboriginal contexts, she decided to pursue consulting work, while furthering her studies.
While she was completing her Masters of Arts in Leadership and Training at Royal Roads University, she was applying her learning to the benefit of a number of clients and initiatives, including the BC Assembly of First Nations, Fraser Basin Council, and establishing the Centre for Native Policy and Research, where she served as executive director.
Her outstanding work and growing reputation led to an appointment as senior policy analyst with Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada, and a move to Ottawa, with her then fiancé. In addition to relishing the opportunity to influence federal government policy and research, she also turned to her other passion – education – and decided to pursue her doctoral studies in Anthropology (Aboriginal Community, Culture and Place) at Carleton University, which she is scheduled to complete in June 2013.
Having juggled work, education and family obligations for a number of years, Cheryl and her husband Kamil dreamed of permanently settling back home in B.C. closer to her own traditional territory and both of their extended families. She wanted to be sure her two daughters were able to know their Secwepemc heritage. She was familiar with JIBC and its Aboriginal Leadership program, so when the opportunity to take the lead on fulfilling the commitment to indigenize the Institute became available, she jumped at the opportunity.
“The position hit all of the right buttons for me,” said Cheryl. “The opportunity to leverage my social policy background, my passion for education and research, and the opportunity to make a practical, hands-on contribution to the success of future Aboriginal students in public safety, health and community and social justice was very appealing. Moving back to B.C. was an added bonus.”
She now turns her attention to breaking down some of those barriers that have obscured Aboriginal views and perspectives, on behalf of students, faculty and staff across the Institute; and leading the way for others to follow.
JIBC is a dynamic public post-secondary institution recognized nationally and internationally for innovative education, training, and applied research in justice and public safety. JIBC offers a range of applied and academic programs, which lead to certificates, diplomas, and degrees and span the spectrum of safety – from prevention to response and recovery.