Pauline Waterfall, O.B.C., BEd ’90

Educator, artist, and author, Pauline Hilistis Waterfall is an advocate for access to education for all First Nations people. A member of the Heiltsuk First Nation, she has a deep history of dedication to her community and the students of Bella Bella, BC.

For 40 years, Waterfall worked to establish culturally appropriate learning for all age groups. Founder of the Bella Bella School Board in 1976, she fulfilled a dream to have youth attend school year-round in their own community after a 75-year history of being sent away to residential schools.

Like many Aboriginal students of her generation, Waterfall attended a residential school. In search of further education, she travelled to Vancouver to complete grade 12. She later graduated with a Bachelor of Education from the Indigenous Teacher Education Program (NITEP) at the University of British Columbia in 1990.

In Bella Bella, her vision that education could be a tool for healing, empowerment, and independence yielded two centres for adult and post-secondary education. The Waglisla Adult Learning Centre offers upgrading for adults and Heiltsuk College offers post-secondary education. She taught three generations of learners at the college and saw the majority advance to full-time work, job skills training, or study at post-secondary institutions. She served as executive director of the college until her retirement in 2009.

Waterfall actively participates in Heiltsuk community life. She is a cultural “knowledge keeper” and played a significant role in the revitalization of the Hailhzaqv language. In 2001, she was named a finalist for Ecotrust, Canada’s Indigenous Leadership Award in Conservation, in honour of her community work on cultural revitalization and community health.

Among her professional accomplishments, Waterfall was a founding member of the Indigenous Adult and Higher Learning Association (IAHLA) in 2003, where she worked extensively with the Ministry of Education. She served in many capacities, including chair of the board and treasurer. She also served as an executive member of the Mid-Coast First Nations Training Society.

For her contributions to Aboriginal education and cultural conservation, and the many lives she touched through her work, she was appointed to the Order of British Columbia in 2010.