Simpcw First Nation Chief Nathan Matthew is the latest recipient of the Kamloops-Thompson school district's Owl Award of Excellence in Public Education.
The Owl Award acknowledges an individual, group or organization that has provided outstanding service to support public education in the region.
Matthew received the award at this week's board of education meeting.
"It is so significant to me to be part of such a great school district," Matthew said, noting he was administrator at the Kamloops Residential School in 1975 when the Kamloops-Thompson school district began partnering with the school on the Tk'emlups Indian Band reserve.
"That's the first time I can remember the school district doing something for First Nations," he said.
Matthew was nominated for the Owl Award by former school district superintendent Terry Grieve, who noted Matthew's leadership in helping First Nations students improve academically.
Twenty years ago, Matthew noted, the graduation rate in Kamloops-Thompson for First Nations students was about 25 per cent.
"It was a daunting task," he said of working to raise those rates. "Two per cent a year is what we aimed for and that's about what is has taken."
The latest graduation rate for First Nations students locally is 79 per cent.
"And we are getting so close to parity," board of education chair Meghan Wade said as she presented Matthew with the Owl Award. "That is due in no small part, sir, to your patience, hard work, time and passion."
In receiving the award, Matthew lauded the Kamloops-Thompson school district for its work with First Nations students.
"It's not happening everywhere else in the province," he said. "Education is transformative. We can make this world a better place if we have options for our young people. This is especially true for First Nations students."
Matthew attended Barriere's elementary and secondary schools before graduating from UBC with a bachelor of recreation education. He later obtained a professional teachers certificate and a master of education.
He has worked as a recreation co-ordinator, as principal of the Sxoxomic school at Esket, as a band planner and as the executive director of Aboriginal education at Thompson Rivers University. Matthew also worked as a community development and education consultant throughout the province. He sat on the Assembly of First Nation Chiefs committee on education for several years and was active in the development of provincial First Nations educational organizations and programs. He currently chairs the School District 73 First Nations Education Council.
Matthew lives in Chu Chua, between Barriere and Little Fort, with Marie, his wife of 46 years.
Owl Award of Excellence in Public Education was created through the school board's long-term plan to recognize outstanding, systemwide contributions to education over an extended period of time that impact students, parents, teachers, support staff and educational leaders across the school district.
Matthew is the third recipient of the award, chosen by a five-person selection committee that included Kamloops Mayor Ken Christian, school district superintendent Alison Sidow, former superintendent Terry Sullivan, trustee Joan Cowden and Beverly Ruberg, a retired secondary principal and current bachelor of education co-ordinator at TRU.
Last year, retired educator Chris Rose received the award for his decades of service. In 2016, the Kamloops North Rotary Club was honoured with the award for its more than 40 years of support and work at the McQueen Lake Environmental Education Centre north of the city.
The Owl Award is a statuette of a burrowing owl sculpted by local artist Terry Norlander. The artwork symbolizes wisdom, hope and vision.