Chris Lewis becomes SFU’s first director of Indigenous initiatives and reconciliation

Lewis discusses the need for collective effort and recognition to enable reconciliation

The photo is of the outside of the SFU Burnaby campus Academic Quadrangle. There are students sitting on the benches near a small pond surrounded by grass.
Lewis was assigned this position in February of 2022. PHOTO: Allyson Klassen / The Peak

By: Pranjali J Mann, News Writer

Chris (Syeta’xtn) Lewis was appointed to the role of director of Indigenous initiatives and reconciliation at SFU in February 2022. 

Lewis was previously a co-chair of the Indigenous Leadership Listening and Implementation Task Force which is working towards recommendations for the SFU-ARC and their subsequent Pathways Report, which recommends “pathways for Indigenous students to and through Simon Fraser University.” Prior to his position as director, he was part of numerous advisories and initiatives including being elected councillor and spokesperson for the Squamish Nation, Board of Governors’ Chair, and recipient of Chancellor’s Distinguished Service Award.

The Peak interviewed Lewis to know more about his vision, upcoming initiatives, and his contributions in this position. “I’m just really humbled with the position that I have,” he said. “I really understand the responsibility, and the privilege, and a little bit of the weight that kind of comes with that role.”

When Lewis began the role, he met with senior leadership, deans, Indigenous faculty and staff to “listen and learn from all of the great work around what they’re doing.” 

Gaining insights from these conversations, Lewis navigates collaborations regarding Indigenous initiatives and reconciliations which “transcend faculties and departments” — not limited to one  section of the university. He recognized that his work includes “creating safe and welcoming spaces. So all of us have a sense of belonging.”

Unpacking the term reconciliation, Lewis said, “Reconciliation just isn’t an Indigenous matter. It’s a collective responsibility that we all have at the university.” To achieve this, he reiterated the need for collective action and effort. This included having support resources and capacity building to assist the ongoing work of Indigenous students, faculty and staff.

Lewis highlighted another essential step in the process of reconciliation: recognition. He explained it’s important to honour and appreciate the gifts of Indigenous students, faculty, and staff. But he pointed out that this inherits a challenge: honoring existing contributions can mean looking at things that have often been forgotten. 

“We really need to build capacity on all fronts, and look at our governance structure, to ensure that it’s supporting the Indigenous work that we must do,” said Lewis.

His position allows Lewis to look into these concerns more closely and he hoped to work on the “Indigenous university wide governance structure on how the university needs to pivot to meet the needs and collective goals around Indigenization and reconciliation.” He said he is excited for an upcoming project that addresses Call to Action #5 from the Aboriginal Reconciliation Council (SFU-ARC) report around “bringing Indigenous names back to the university.” Lewis said he looks forward to “creating a sense of belonging, especially for Indigenous community within the university,” through the project.

Lewis noted he is looking forward to working with the “largest urban Indigenous population in British Columbia,” in Surrey, including Métis, Inuit, and other five host communities to “create safe and welcoming spaces.”