Hupacasath journalist Wawmeesh Hamilton was among those honoured by his alma mater this past week.
To mark its 49th year, officials from Vancouver’s Langara College, which is located on 49th Avenue in Vancouver, decided to honor 49 distinguished Langarans. Those recognized at a ceremony at the school Nov. 6 included distinguished alumni, community partners as well as current or former employees.
Hamilton, who is an associate producer for CBC Radio Vancouver as well as a contributing writer for CBC Indigenous and CBC Radio, took Langara’s one-year Journalism program, starting in 2006. In recent years Hamilton, a member of the Hupacasath First Nation, has specialized in writing about First Nations people and Indigenous issues.
When he completed his Master of Journalism degree from the University of British Columbia in 2015, Hamilton had plenty of Indigenous topics to write about. For starters, Idle No More was still a hot topic. So too was the national issue of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. And then the final report from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada came out in 2015.
“Those thrust Indigenous issues and communities very atop the news agenda,” Hamilton said.
Hamilton knew for a few months that Langara College planned to recognize him.
“I got a call in the summer stating I had been nominated and that I was going to be honored,” he said.
A total of 185 individuals were nominated for the award.
Hamilton, 54, has lectured on Indigenous issues at Langara College the past two years. He’s now lobbying the school to start a course focusing on Indigenous issues.
Hamilton is not sure who nominated him for his Langaran award but he believes it must have been someone in the school’s Journalism department.
Though he did not enroll in Langara’s Journalism program until he was 41, Hamilton fell in love with the field long before that. While in the Philosophy program at Vancouver Island University back in 2000, Hamilton took an Introductory to Journalism class one term. He was hooked early on in that class.
“It found me,” he said of journalism, which would end up becoming his career. “I sopped up every lecture. That became my obsession and my passion. It still is.”
Because of his solid reputation of reporting on Indigenous issues in recent years, many have suggested to Hamilton that he should branch out and go into communications or media training.
“I wouldn’t be a fit,” he said. “If you open my head up you’d find a notepad and a pen.”
Hamilton said he is disappointed that his parents died before he began his journalism career. His father Cliff died when Hamilton was just six.
“I have very few memories of him,” Hamilton said. “But I remember him reading newspapers and National Geographic magazines and Life magazines. He would read them intently page to page. That was the effect someone’s journalism was having on him.”
Hamilton’s mother Jessie was also an avid reader.
“She would read in her quiet times,” Hamilton said.
And he also praised his late stepfather Arnold Thomas, who was illiterate, for where he is today.
“He was the biggest advocate in my life to get the best education that I could,” he said.
Hamilton also said another individual who was instrumental in his life path was Betty Pletcher, who was a teacher at Vancouver Community College, where he took an English course.
“She took me aside one day after class,” Hamilton said, adding Pletcher asked him what he was interested in doing. “I told her I hope to get my business degree and move home and help my people. She told me you don’t have a business mind. You have a creative mind and you should be a writer.”
Dr. Lane Trotter, Langara College’s CEO and president, welcomed the opportunity for his school to honor 49 Langarans this year.
“The 49 recipients are ambassadors for the college, and represent the impact that Langara has had in the community,” he said. “It’s our pleasure to celebrate their achievements and our contribution to their success.”