The man who literally wrote the textbook on the legendary Gisday’wa (Alfred Joseph) has been honoured by the University of Northern British Columbia.
Although going into academia later in life starting at UNBC in 2005 and becoming a full professor only three years before retiring in July 2020, Dr. Ross Hoffman has been named Professor Emeritus.
He said he feels particularly honoured considering his short tenure.
“It feels really good,” he told The Interior News. “I have to say, it wasn’t anything I thought would ever happen having gone to the academic life when I was older. I basically got to UNBC when I was 50, so it hasn’t been my lifelong career, but UNBC has been a great experience.
“This is just like icing on the cake, to have your work recognized by the place that you were proud to be part of.”
Although not a paid position, Hoffman sees an advantage to the emeritus title.
“How I perceive it is you have the opportunity, if you choose, to be involved at any level you want to. So, there’s no must dos.”
He currently has no plans to be involved in anything in particular but does not rule out participating in research projects, sitting on graduate student committees or supervising grad students.
Hoffman was a teacher in the discipline of Indigenous Studies and served as chair of the First Nations Studies Department for six years.
“He established academic and cultural relationships, locally, nationally, and internationally,” noted a press release from the university. “It includes being a founding co-director of the Urban Aboriginal Knowledge Network nationally and the Cross-Cultural Indigenous Knowledge Exchange program between Maori universities in New Zealand and UNBC.”
He also developed many new courses and served on more than 40 graduate student committees.
One of those courses was an introductory course in Indigenous studies that still uses his 2019 book Song of the Earth: The Life of Alfred Joseph. Joseph was the Witsuwit’en hereditary chief known as Gisday’wa, who was integral to the 1997 Supreme Court of Canada Delgamuukw-Gisday’wa decision that established Indigenous rights and title.
Proceeds from sales of the book as a textbook for the course go into a bursary fund, which goes to an Indigenous student or students.
The book has been well-received outside the university as well.
“It’s been really great, I got a lot of good feedback from people in various places,” he said. “I think the timing was really good. I’m really glad it was pre-COVID because we could do (the book launch) in the community (Hagwilget).”
Song of the Earth was shortlisted for the provincial 2020 George Ryga Award, which honours an author “who has achieved an outstanding degree of social awareness in a new book published in the preceding calendar year.”
“That was really cool,” Hoffman said.
The book also won the Jim Pojar Award given out by the Bulkley Valley Research Centre for an “outstanding recent publication appearing in any format that contributes to the understanding or sustainability of natural and cultural resources in northwest BC.”
Finally, it received a Jeanne Clarke Local History Award from the Prince George Library Board.
He most appreciates getting calls and notes from Witsuwit’en people who have read it and to whom it meant a lot.”
Hoffman currently has no plans for more books, but isn’t ruling it out either.
“I’m kind of waiting until the spirit moves me,” he said. “I do like to write, but life’s been pretty busy all winter, believe it or not.”
The decision to retire was a personal one.
“I’m 65 at it was time to move on to other things,” he said. “My wife has been retired for about eight, 10 years, so she made it look pretty fun.”
Hoffman grew up in Bulkley Valley. With two of his three daughters and granddaughters living in the Smithers area, he and his wife wanted to be closer to family.
“We’ve always loved the valley, I’m kind of near the headwaters up near Bulkley Lake,” he said. “We found a property we loved and we’re a lot closer to family than we were. We’re just switching gears.”