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Musqueam elder leaves education legacy

Assembly of First Nations chief praises Point

Norma "Rose" Point, a well known Musqueam elder whose life's work revolved around First Nation education and health concerns, died unexpectedly July 2.

The 78-year-old was a tireless teacher who understood the value of education and who was known for her generosity, compassion and empathy, according to daughter-in-law Linda Point.

"She really wanted to share her knowledge, whether it was about education or about health issues for babies. She had an amazing willingness to share with everyone_ and she almost never said 'No,'" Linda Point told the Courier. "I reminded her when she got a little older that you've got to take it a little bit more easy, but she just didn't slow down."

Point retired from her position as an aboriginal services adviser at BCIT in March-she travelled to work at the Burnaby campus by bus every day from the Musqueam reserve (51st and Dunbar).

Prayer and funeral services, held late last week, attracted hundreds of mourners including Lieutenant Governor of B.C. Steven Point; Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs; Grand Chief Edward John of the First Nations Summit; and representatives from post-secondary institutions.

In a press release issued Friday, Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn Atleo called Point a great woman who touched the lives of many.

"She dedicated much of her life to ensuring education was a tool and a vehicle to advance the aspirations of First Nations learners. The wisdom, the dedication to students and the example she set were an inspiration to many generations of First Nations in B.C. She was also known for her work promoting social justice issues, equality and improving the environment," Atleo stated.

Point was originally from the Seabird Island Band, which is part of the Sto-lo Tribal Council. She married Cagney Point from the Musqueam Indian Band in the 1950s, was welcomed by the community and lived on the reserve from then on. She was also linked to the Nlaka'pamux in the Thompson region where her mother Theresa was from.

Point has four sons and three grandchildren.

During her career, she was involved with the Native Education Centre and worked at the University of British Columbia and the Vancouver School Board.

She served on the VSB's First Nations Advisory Committee in the late '90s until the early 2000s, according to board spokesman Kurt Heinrich. She also served on the district's steering committee for its strategic plan between 2000 and 2002.

"After that she attended numerous events as a First Nations elder up until this year's Templeton graduation ceremony," Heinrich said.

Trustee Ken Clement, who knew Point for at least 20 years, said she was one of the original First Nations workers at the Kumtuks alternate program that was located at Templeton secondary school. He described Point as a strong advocate for aboriginal students from kindergarten through to post-secondary.

"Rose was a very strong voice within the school district many years ago, promoting education for aboriginal students in our district," Clement said. "As an elder in the community she had a strong cultural foundation."

Son Stewart Point said in an email to the Courier that his mother started the Musqueam reserve's preschool-the first ever opened on a native reserve in Canada-and she was involved in a live theatre group called Spirit Song, which trained aspiring actors. He noted a former Kumtuks student attended the funeral. "He failed Grade 9 three times. Then he had Rose Point as a teacher. Only then did he manage to graduate high school, without failing a grade," Stewart Point wrote.

Niece Cecilia Point said everyone in the Musqueam community knew Rose and that she seldom, if ever, turned down invitations to events where she could represent the community in a positive light and share First Nations' history.

"[She] undertook many initiatives involving education, namely starting our preschool. She was the education coordinator for a number of years, and was also on council for a number of years. She took in many foster children, and was an advocate for keeping our 'children in care' within our own community," she explained.

On Friday, BCIT lowered flags to half-mast in honour of Point and a scholarship is being created in her name. UBC also lowered its B.C. flag in her memory.

Twitter: @Naoibh