UBC Faculty of Forestry extends a warm congratulations to Garry Merkel for receiving an honorary doctorate in recognition of the remarkable contributions he has made to advance the culturally relevant education and economic self-determination of Indigenous peoples.
Garry is a member of the Tahltan Nation and a Registered Professional Forester with the Association of BC Forest Professionals. His achievements and contributions are numerous and span decades. They include being instrumental in the formation of the Faculty of Forestry’s First Nations Council of Advisors (FNCOA) in 1994 in which he currently serves as co-chair. He also worked with the UBC First Nations House of Learning to establish an Aboriginal Forestry Initiative at UBC.
Garry has been involved in building First Nations governments for almost three decades. He has led numerous initiatives, including the Yukon Forest Policy, the BC First Nations Forest Policy Forum, the Hakai Recreation Area Co-management Agreement, the Canadian Aboriginal Forestry and Employment Training Strategy, the BC Aboriginal Housing Strategy, the BC Aboriginal Governance Initiative and Ktunaxa Strategic Engagement Agreement. He is the Executive Director of the BC First Nations Housing & Infrastructure Council, and has been the CEO of the Tahltan Nation Development Corporation. He was part of the 3-person team that negotiated the creation of the Columbia Basin Trust, was elected vice-chair of the Trust at its formation in 1995, and chaired the trust from 2005 to 2013. He is a Co-Chair of the BC Minister of Forests Practices Advisory Council. Most recently, he co-authored A New Future for Old Forests, a report for the Province of British Columbia that includes recommendations on the management of old-growth forests in the province that the Provincial Government has committed to implement in full.
In his address to the 2021 graduating class, Garry accepted the degree by acknowledging that his achievements “were only possible because of those before him who also worked to build a new and better life for their people.” He explained that he was inspired to work in the field of education in the late 1980s when he learned as Chair of the Aboriginal Forestry Education and Training Review that there were only 12 Aboriginal post-secondary graduates in the field of natural resources in Canada. He saw an urgent need to have a meaningful government-to-government working relationships and this required a change in the face of post-secondary education and training for Aboriginal students. This prompted him to be a part of a pioneering effort that created an educational environment tailored to meet the unique needs of the Aboriginal learner. He supported the development and ongoing implementation of the Nicola Valley Institute of Technology (NVIT) as a board member, vice-chair, chair and acting president over a 24-year period. He conducted two independent reviews of the implementation of BC’s Aboriginal post-secondary education strategy for the BC Ministry of Advanced Education and supported the re-drafting of the strategy to accommodate the recommendations of the reviews.
These efforts resulted in Aboriginal students achieving a 90% graduation success rate. Today in BC, an Aboriginal post-secondary student has the same chance of success as a non-Aboriginal student with thousands today working in the area of natural resources, making important changes in the landscape.
Garry concluded his address to the graduates with inspiring words of wisdom – urging them to never be afraid to dream. It is we who are honoured at the Faculty of Forestry to have his involvement and support over the years. Garry is a Doctor of Science, honoris causa.