The Nicola Valley Institute of Technology (NVIT) is home to over 1,700 students across all its programs and serves 68 per cent of British Columbia’s Indigenous communities.
Founded in 1983 in Merritt, NVIT, now celebrating its fortieth anniversary, has grown from a humble beginning into a nationally recognized institution dedicated to advancing the educational opportunities for Indigenous communities across Canada.
Back in the 1970s, Grand Chief Gordon Antoine and Robert Sterling Sr. came together with members within the valley and realized that it was hard for Indigenous people to get out of Nicola Valley for education.
A couple of years later, the British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT) was contracted by the First Nations in the Nicola Valley to deliver a natural resource technology program. From that moment the Indigenous communities realized there was a demand for more than just natural resources
The five First Nations bands in the Nicola Valley – Upper Nicola Band, Lower Nicola Band, Coldwater Indian Band, Shackan Indian Band and Nooaitch Indian Band – created a society back in 1987, and eight years later NVIT’s status as a society ended once it was designated as a public provincial institute.
Sue Sterling-Bur, Vice President at NVIT, is Robert Sterling’s descendant and takes much pride in the institute’s origins.
“The first foundational piece is that we were created by our five First Nations bands, that makes us unique in this entire province,” she said.
Sterling-Bur defines the institute as “walking in both worlds”, a place where Indigenous knowledge and Western culture come together.
“As Indigenous people, we need to know how to walk in the Indigenous world and practice our traditions, but also walk in Western society,” she said.
According to the institute’s website, the commitment to the vision, traditional culture and values of the five founding Indigenous bands are present in their educational goal. To Sterling-Bur, the institute brings the Indigenous traditions in many different forms, such as the Indigenous Elders Council.
“They (the Elders) go into classrooms with the teachers and they’ll share some of the teachings that we have from our valley,” she said. “We get to go on field trips and go pick medicines, go on an experience, go on and learn about some stories from the valley.”
She said they also incorporate other traditions such as hand drumming, a form of Indigenous prayer, every second Friday of the month.
One of the challenges for NVIT, according to Sterling-Bur, is the lack of recognition towards the institute when compared to other post-secondaries.
“I’ve heard the comment that ‘it’s only for Indigenous people’ or ‘it’s not as good as TRU or not as good as UBC’,” she said. “But we offer the same programs as other post-secondaries. So that’s a challenge in that attitude and an old belief that we’re not as good as.”
To Sterling-Bur, the 40th anniversary of the institute serves as a reminder of the resilience, determination, and excellence that have defined its journey.
“NVIT is a form of reconciliation for Canada,” she said. “Because that horrific education got us into the mess that we’re now in with Indigenous people trying to heal and recover from residential schools. And our education is going to help get us out of that.”
She also said that as NVIT looks ahead to the next 40 years and beyond, it remains committed to its core mission of empowering Indigenous students and rural communities.
“The impact of NVIT offering education with our partners in rural and remote areas is changing the dynamics of those communities,” Sterling-Bur said. “It’s changing the systems and the colonial systems that are in place. And we’re able to support decolonization and reconciliation through education.”
As for the future, Nicola Valley Institute of Technology is expanding their programs to Vancouver with the creation of a new campus where they will be able to offer all of their programs.
“We’re growing and expanding. We’re a small institute, but we are definitely reaching our community and what they need.”