University of the Fraser Valley

Knowledge keeper, practitioner and educator Mike Retasket receives honorary degree from UFV

Knowledge keeper, practitioner and educator Mike Retasket receives honorary degree from UFV

From sleeping in a bed dug from Peruvian sand to educating along the plank sidewalks of Barkerville, Mike Retasket’s long and diverse commitment to learning and sharing complex Indigenous history is unparalleled.

For this and more, he will receive an honorary Doctor of Letters degree from the University of the Fraser Valley this June.

A renowned dancer, drummer, political leader, negotiator, cultural interpreter, and traditional Secwépemc knowledge keeper, Retasket’s experiences combine for invaluable insight on boards ranging from the First Nations Leadership Council to the Fraser Basin Council, First Nations Forestry Council, Union of BC Indian Chiefs, Tourism Industry Association of BC, and many more.

Wisdom earned through 10 years as Chief of the Bonaparte Indian Band helped him negotiate important government agreements, acting as a signatory on the Transformative Change Accord, Public Safety Accord, and the Leadership Accord. Despite the long hours, Retasket insists he’s happy to do the work — although it hasn’t been without difficulty.

“It’s not easy being an Indian,” he admits, preferring the nomenclature used around his grandparents’ kitchen table.

“We have to know the language, we have to know the songs, we have to know the ceremonies, we have to know the culture, we have to know the traditions, we have to know our medicines, we have to know our territory and our water,” he said.

“And once we know that, we have the responsibility of passing those teachings on. It could be heavy, but if I turn that heaviness around I can use it in the work towards my healing,” he says.

Born in B.C., Retasket was raised largely in Washington State by older siblings after his mom and dad passed away when he was five and 13, respectively.

The youngest of 11 children, he was identified at an early age as a talented drummer and dancer. This integration into traditional Indigenous customs opened the door to a lifetime of diverse activism, leading to his current job educating tourists about the region’s rich Indigenous history in B.C.’s Barkerville Historic Town and Park.

His activism has ranged from protesting resort expansion in B.C.’s interior to travelling the world with Urban Rural Mission (URM) — a group of community activists working towards social justice.

Before visiting the region around Lima, Peru with URM, Retasket learned the average income for local villagers was only $400, so he arrived with just $40 in his pocket. Instead of staying at his congregation’s hotel, he slept under a sea of southern stars alongside locals in a bed dug from sand — an extension of his commitment to respect, authenticity, and tradition.

Learned through ancient teachings, his advice to those willing to listen is simple.

“Remember who you are, remember where you come from, leave the land better than how you found it, and speak when you’re spoken to,” he advises.

And the greatest barrier to continuing these lessons?


“We need the younger generation to get off their phones and listen and see what’s real and around them – but at the same time we need elders to embrace technology to save the old teachings passed down from hundreds of generations.”

This multi-faceted, multi-generational, and open approach to Indigenous education and environmental protection played a large part in the effusive support for Retasket’s honorary degree from Eric Davis, special advisor to the UFV President, who nominated him.

“Mike exemplifies UFV’s mission, vision, and values. While preserving and teaching traditional knowledge, and working towards reconciliation, he engages learners, transforms lives, and builds community,” Davis says.

“A man who has devoted his adult life to healing by teaching us to take care of our environment, our ancestors, our culture, and each other, is a most deserving candidate for an honorary degree from UFV.”