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Q&A: Steven Point

Outgoing viceregal reflects on five years of pomp and returning to his pickup Add to ...

Steven Point has served as a leader for the Sto:lo Nation, a treaty commissioner and a provincial judge. But when he was named lieutenant-governor of B.C. five years ago, he knew little of the job he was taking on. The taxi driver who first dropped him off at Government House – a lushly landscaped, three-story granite manor – had to persuade him this was his official residence.

This week, Mr. Point will turn in the gilt sword, the ostrich-plumed hat and all the rest of the trimmings of office as his successor, Judith Guichon, is officially installed.

As he prepares to return home to the Skowkale First Nation reserve with his pickup truck, the province’s first aboriginal lieutenant-governor reflects on his accomplishments during his five-year tenure – promoting literacy and B.C.’s first aboriginal army cadet corps – and on the limitations of being the Queen’s representative. Rule No. 1: No politics.

I get to admire the river canoe you carved, sitting in the rotunda of the legislature. It seems a little lost, stuck on dry land. Was that your intent?

When I want to unwind and take some exercise, I go beach-combing to look for shells and feathers. That’s where I found the log. I told John, my driver, “I think I’m going to take this log home.” In my mind, I thought me and John and a few of the guys would hoist it onto my truck. John said “oh no, Your Honour.” He went and hired a crane. In our custom, you have to give away the first thing you make.

This was my first canoe I had carved. One of the elders asked me, “Steve, what are you going to do to mark your time here?” And I thought, I am going to give this to the province of British Columbia.

The Speech from the Throne is one of the lieutenant-governor’s key moments in the public spotlight. Tell us about how you prepare to deliver someone’s words – even if you don’t embrace the government’s agenda.

They send the speech over the night before. I read it aloud to make sure I am comfortable with it. Government tends to have run-on sentences. I don’t know who writes them, they obviously haven’t heard of the movement called Simple English. Then you are sitting there and everybody is looking at you, the TV cameras are rolling, your hands start sweating and your knees start shaking a bit. You do feel a little self-conscious.

You never struck me as being enamoured with the pomp that is such a big part of the job. How much does that Windsor uniform weigh?

Forty pounds. After you wear it for half an hour, your shoulder starts aching. I believe tradition and customs, passed down through the generations, should be maintained. It’s important to know who we are as Canadians. But I’m a firm believer that we are what we do in our life. We are not our uniform and we are not our title. I’m just the character drifting through.

These are pretty nice digs – the gardens, the swimming pool, the personal chef – a person might get used to that. Did you?

No. It’s nice to be here, it’s a great privilege and honour to be in this chair. But when I go home, I do the cooking, I make the beds and I cut the grass. I’ve never wanted to lose sight of the fact that we are going to go home.

When you took office, one of your priorities was to improve cultural reconciliation with first nations. Are we any closer to that today in B.C.?

Reconciliation is about, let’s tear this wall down. We can’t legislate that, we can’t force people to do that. It begins with people, sitting down and getting to know each other. In our literacy campaign, we brought communities together, they are building libraries and relationships at the same time. Are we closer to reconciliation? Yes we are.

What are you going to tell your successor about the powers – and limitations – of this job.

Don’t do anything to embarrass yourself or the Crown, and hand over the reins of power to the elected government.

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