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Chief named chancellor of B.C. university

NANAIMO, British Columbia – A hereditary chief from a small west coast village has been appointed chancellor of a newly accredited university.

Shawn Atleo, whose traditional Ahousaht First Nation name is “A-in-chut,” swapped a woven blanket for a gown and a cedar headband for a mortarboard at a ceremony in Nanaimo Sept. 25.

Atleo becomes the first aboriginal in British Columbia to be appointed chancellor of a university, and it’s a school he knows well.

“My father, Dr. Richard Atleo, taught here for many years and helped start the First Nations studies program,” he said. “And now my daughter is a student here, so our family has been associated with the school for many years.”

Formerly called Malaspina University-College, the school gained full university status last year and was re-named Vancouver Island University. With university status comes the obligation to appoint a chancellor, and the board of directors quickly agreed to appoint a First Nations leader to the role.

“The opportunity to appoint a chancellor is an opportunity to chart the future course of the institution,” said First Nations studies professor Dan McDonald. “By appointing A-in-chut to chancellor shows the school is interested in continuing its role as a center for First Nations studies, and a center for First Nations students wanting to pursue post-secondary degrees.”

With more than 10,000 students, VIU boasts the highest enrollment of First Nations students in the province, at more than 8 percent.

“I hope to use my position to encourage more aboriginal content in courses and programs, and encourage even greater aboriginal enrollment at VIU,” said Atleo, who is also the British Columbia Regional Chief for the national Assembly of First Nations organization.

While the role of chancellor is largely symbolic, Atleo will participate in the university’s board of directors and senate during his three-year term.