Steven Lewis Point (Xwĕ lī qwĕl tĕl), OC, OBC, lawyer, judge, chief, lieutenant-governor of British Columbia (born 28 July 1951 in Chilliwack, BC). A member of the Skowkale First Nation, Point was 23 years old when he began his career as chief of that community in 1975. He served in the role of chief for a total of 15 years on several occasions. From 1994 to 1999, he was tribal chair of the Stó:lō Nation and Grand Chief of Stó:lō Tribal Council. Point was also the chiefs' representative for the Stó:lō Nation Government House. He was appointed Chief Commissioner of the British Columbia Treaty Commission in 2005. Point went on to become the first Indigenous lieutenant-governor of BC in 2007. In 2020, he also became the first Indigenous chancellor of the University of British Columbia.
Education and Legal Career
Steven Point went to the University of British Columbia’s law school and graduated with a specialty in criminal and constitutional law. He returned to Chilliwack where he established his own firm, Point and Shirley. He practised law as a partner there from 1986 to 1989.
In the 1980s, Point accepted a position with the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs. Its mandate was to pursue the implementation and recognition of Indigenous title and rights. He also worked with the federal government’s Department of Employment and Immigration as a refugee adjudicator. In 1991, Point began to teach law at the University of British Columbia’s Allard Law School (now Peter A. Allard School of Law). He became the Director of the First Nations Legal Studies Program, later called Indigenous Legal Studies. Point also taught Indigenous law at the University of Saskatchewan.
Point returned home in 1993 to serve as manager of the Lands Department for the Stó:lō Nation. He led negotiations that resulted in the Stó:lō Nation and the Stó:lō Tribal Council forming a single organization, under his leadership. A year later, Point organized the submission of a Statement of Intent to the British Columbia Treaty Commission that specified Stó:lō rights and title. (See also Treaties with Indigenous Peoples in Canada.) On 30 June 1995, Point was among seven chiefs who formed a board of directors, called the Special Chiefs Council, that saw 21 bands join the Stó:lō Nation Society. Its constitution pledged to revive and enhance Stó:lō cultural values and identity through the re-establishment of self-government.
Did You Know?
Through Steven Point’s involvement in Stó:lō longhouses and by serving on the Chilliwack Powwow committee, he promoted traditional singing and dancing.
Career as a Judge
In February 1999, Steven Point was appointed to serve as a judge in the Provincial Court of British Columbia. At the time there were only two other Indigenous judges in the BC provincial court system and only 16 in Canada. The courts at the time were backlogged, which meant that Point travelled to hear cases in Prince George, Penticton, Kelowna, Burnaby, Vancouver and elsewhere. He was later permanently posted in Prince Rupert and Northwestern BC.
He taught a course on Stó:lō values at the University College of the Fraser Valley (now University of the Fraser Valley), which awarded him an honorary Doctorate of Laws degree in 2000. That year he also received a National Aboriginal Achievement Award (now Indspire).
British Columbia Treaty Commission
In 2005, Steven Point was appointed Chief Commissioner of the British Columbia Treaty Commission (BCTC). The BCTC was formed in 1992 by the federal and provincial governments and First Nations Summit. Its mandate is to advocate for and then facilitate treaty negotiations. It helps the three parties find solutions, allocates funding to allow First Nations to properly participate, and educates the public regarding the issues at hand. The BCTC also supports the implementation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action and other national and international policies concerning Indigenous peoples. Point held the position with the BCTC until he was named the province's lieutenant-governor.
Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia
On 1 October 2007, Steven Point was sworn in as British Columbia’s 28th lieutenant-governor. He was the first Indigenous person to hold the position. Grand Chief Edward John of the First Nations Summit said that Point’s appointment was, “truly a milestone for First Nations people in BC, especially in these times of reconciliation, recognition and relationship-building.” One of Point’s first duties was to give royal assent to the Maa-nulth First Nations treaty on 29 November 2007.
Upon leaving the office at the end of his five-year term, Point presented the people of BC with a brightly coloured and ornately hand-carved canoe that he had made in a shed behind his home. He was praised for his humility, dignity and sense of humour.
Post Lieutenant Governor Work
In January 2012, Steven Point was appointed chair of the advisory committee for the safety and security of vulnerable women. A year later, Point was reappointed as a British Columbia Provincial Court judge. He served for four years until retiring in 2018. In June 2020, Point became the 19th chancellor of the University of British Columbia and the first Indigenous person to hold the position.
Point also served on several boards including those of Providence Health Care at St. Paul’s Hospital and the Vancouver International Arbitration Centre. He served the Chilliwack community on the city’s Safety Advisory Committee and involved himself in building a First Nations Friendship Centre. Point helped the Stó:lō Nation with treaty negotiations and served as an Honorary Colonel in the 39 Service Battalion of the Canadian Armed Forces.
Honours and Awards
- National Aboriginal Achievement Award (now Indspire) for Law and Justice (2000).
- Queen Elizabeth II Golden Jubilee Medal (2002).
- Order of British Columbia (2007).
- Knight of the Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem (2007).
- Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal (2012).
- Order of Chilliwack (2016).
- Justice Institute of British Columbia Foundation Joseph H. Cohen Award (2018).
- Officer, Order of Canada (2023)