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300-year-old blanket worn by First Nations UVic graduate

06/09/2015 07:43 EDT | Updated 06/09/2016 05:59 EDT
A First Nations graduate attended her convocation at the University of Victoria this week wearing a 300-year-old blanket that belonged to her late grandfather, Henry Abel Bell.

Joye Walkus, who graduated with a specialized degree in aboriginal language revitalization, said Bell was the first person to teach her their traditional language.

"I want[ed] my grandfather's memory, spirit, him, to be there ... and this blanket was the biggest representation that I could think of," said Walkus, who is from the Kwakiutl Nation on Vancouver Island.

"The emotion got the better of me when I first tried it on. I couldn't hold back the tears. It felt like my grandfather was hugging me."

The centuries-old blanket had been passed down through her family for generations, but Walkus' grandfather sold it to the Royal BC Museum 32 years ago.

"He knew the value of it back then and it wasn't going to survive much longer if it stayed in hands that didn't know how to deal with it properly," said Walkus.

"The condition was that if any of his children or grandchildren wanted to borrow the blanket, they were allowed."

While Walkus says it was a long process to get permission to wear the blanket, it was something she wanted to do to pay tribute to the person who had such a profound impact on her career path.

"To stand up there with my classmates and to have this honour. This whole thing has been amazing and the university really provided an amazing education for everybody and opened up so many doors." 

As Walkus crossed the stage, she says she could feel her grandfather's presence in the room.

"He was there today. His heart would be very proud."

To hear the full interview with Joye Walkus, listen to the audio labelled 300 year old blanket.

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