June 5, 2018 – Retired Canadian diplomat and Corporate Director, John P. Bell, a graduate of UBC Commerce class of 1962, recently provided for a gift in his will to support the First Nations House of Learning at UBC, which is housed in the First Nations Longhouse. His father, businessman and philanthropist Jack Bell, was the lead donor for the Longhouse project which was completed nearly 30 years ago.
“The Longhouse has become a home base for students often from isolated communities and a catalyst for education around Indigenous issues,” says John. “My father’s gift was really quite timely and it has had an impact on many people. In 1989 then UBC president, David Strangway noted there was only one First Nations student registered at UBC. Today there are around 1600 and the number is growing. The Longhouse and the First Nations House of Learning are great catalysts in this process”.
The First Nations House of Learning coordinates UBC’s efforts to increase educational opportunities for Aboriginal people and to meaningfully address issues of importance to Indigenous communities, from language preservation to clean drinking water, through teaching, research and community engagement.
John hopes his planned gift will not only increase the number of Indigenous graduates, but will also support the First Nations House of Learning’s work to ensure that an understanding of Indigenous history— a full and accurate understanding of Canadian history—is part of the education of all UBC students, whatever their field of study.
John’s own passion for supporting Aboriginal communities began when he was 14 and 15 years old working during the summers at the fish cannery at Namu on the BC Central Coast close to Bella Bella, home of the Heiltsuk First Nation. When he became a Director at various resource firms, he maintained a strong interest in how the companies he worked with were engaging Indigenous communities in which they were operating. His interest in advancing Indigenous rights also shaped his 35-year career as a federal diplomat.
In addition to his planned gift, John is supporting the annual John P. Bell Lecture in Global Indigenous Rights at UBC. The inaugural speaker in 2016 was Dr. Wilton Littlechild, a commissioner with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.