Wearing a blue convocation gown and holding a medal presented to him, Louis Thomas, Secwepemc knowledge keeper and councillor with the Neskonlith First Nation, is one of four people to receive an Okanagan College Honorary Fellow Award at a special online convocation ceremony held on Jan. 22, 2021. (Okanagan College image)

Wearing a blue convocation gown and holding a medal presented to him, Louis Thomas, Secwepemc knowledge keeper and councillor with the Neskonlith First Nation, is one of four people to receive an Okanagan College Honorary Fellow Award at a special online convocation ceremony held on Jan. 22, 2021. (Okanagan College image)

Secwépemc knowledge-keeper Louis Thomas receives Okanagan College’s highest honour

Neskonlith band councillor recognized for his outstanding community-building work

Louis Thomas donned a blue convocation robe and was awarded a gold medal recently for all of his efforts in community building.

Thomas was one of four people in the region who received the 2020 Okanagan College Honorary Fellow Award, which Shuswap-Revelstoke Dean Joan Ragsdale described as the highest distinction the college can give.

She said it’s for those people who are doing outstanding work from a community-building perspective.

The criteria for the award are mentorship, excellence, eminence and accomplishment.

Thomas, a Secwépemc knowledge keeper and councillor with the Neskonlith band, was introduced at the online convocation ceremony Jan. 22 as working actively with the Salmon Arm Economic Development Society, Shuswap Trail Alliance, Shuswap District Arts Council, the City of Salmon Arm Housing Taskforce and many other groups in the region.

It was also noted that he has shared his guidance and knowledge with the college in many ways over the years, including providing the traditional welcome and sharing other aspects of his culture at countless events and ceremonies.

Read more: Secwépemc knowledge-keeper’s contributions recognized by Province of B.C.

Read more: Bringing stories to life

In accepting his award, Thomas said he was honoured.

“I like to work in the background, but it’s nice to be recognized,” said Thomas. “Education is so important. The world is changing and we all have to adapt. Education is one of the things that will help our people thrive. I am a firm believer in sharing. Our culture is all about sharing, about passing on our knowledge and culture to future generations. I’ve always tried to support that however I can.”

He said that although reconciliation is a bit of a buzz-word these days, it’s something he’s been doing for about 40 years.

“Getting people to understand who we are as Secwépemc people.

“I used the college and I graduated from there; in fact I was the one, when I was on council many years ago, the college helped me start an upgrading course on our reserve and I believe it was one of the first ones. So Okanagan College has always been my kind of mentor and all the people that worked there through the years.”

Thomas sat on the college advisory board for 13 years.

“We share knowledge together, we work together, and that is my goal. To share always. In our culture, it’s always about sharing.”

He also thanked the other three people who received the award: Pamela and Wilfred ‘Grouse’ Barnes from the Westbank First Nation; Robert Foord from Vernon and Don Turri from Kelowna.

“The work they do is important. And it’s important to everyone.”

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