Coast Salish Elder Thiyaas Florence James receives honorary doctorate

Longtime POLIS advisor honoured by Vancouver Island University

Published On: July 9th, 2024

On June 14, 2024, Thiyaas Florence James received an Honorary Doctor of Letters from Vancouver Island University for her commitment to sharing knowledge to keep Coast Salish culture and traditions living and to protect the environment for future generations. POLIS Co-Director Kelly Bannister was in attendance as Florence’s guest and supporter.

Auntie Florence with her diploma. June 14, 2024.

Thiyaas, or Auntie Florence as she is widely known, is a highly respected Elder, Knowledge Holder, and oral historian from Pune’luxutth (Penelakut) Island, who has been a cherished mentor to Kelly for over two decades. The POLIS Project and the University of Victoria’s Centre for Global Studies (CFGS) formally supported the nomination for an Honorary Doctor of Laws in a letter that detailed how Thiyaas has had an invaluable role in POLIS research and education initiatives since 2022, as well as numerous POLIS and CFGS gatherings and events. She has offered territorial acknowledgements, event openings and closings, prayers, songs, and cultural teachings, particularly related to reconciliation, watershed governance, biodiversity, and biocultural ethics.

Auntie Florence receives her Honorary Doctor of Letters from Vancouver Island University. June 14, 2024.

Auntie Florence is a fluent speaker of Hul’qumi’num (Salishan Coast Salish Central language family), teacher, and powerful advocate for Indigenous language reclamation, cultural heritage, environmental education, early childhood education, and holistic healing. She has been an avid researcher, research participant, advisor, translator, and expert witness in legal cases pertaining to Coast Salish law. She is an educator and lifelong learner, who draws on both her traditional gifts and teachings from the Ancestors and her university-based education. She has had a profound impact as an Elder-in-residence and teacher at VIU for many years by sharing her culture, language, and family teachings with grace and generosity, including developing Hul’qumi’num curriculum for language learning.

Auntie Florence offers a thank you dance at her Honorary Doctor of Letters ceremony. June 14, 2024.

Many of us at POLIS and CFGS know first hand how generous and faithful Auntie Florence is in sharing her cultural and ecological expertise for research, education, health, cultural, and other important purposes. She has made invaluable contributions to the evolution of our work and our personal development that is beyond words but lives in our hearts. We are all better human beings for knowing Dr. Thiyaas Florence James.

The POLIS and CFGS family celebrate this formal recognition of the many gifts that Thiyaas has shared with the world and we her lift up with respect, honour, care and gratitude as she has lifted so many others.