Eyēʔ Sqȃ’lewen: the Centre for Indigenous Education & Community Connections at Camosun College is preparing to celebrate its 25th anniversary this September. As part of the celebration, we are gathering stories from students past and present. It is our hope that these stories will inspire future Indigenous learners who study here. Over 25 years of providing services to Indigenous students, we have witnessed the children of alumni grow into adults; many of the people we serve today are second generation Camosun students. This is one of those intergenerational success stories.
The Jim family is from the W̱SÁNEĆ Nation on southern Vancouver Island, where they live in the Tseycum village. Glenn Jim, a father of seven, and his two eldest children, Marissa, 29, and Mataya, 25, joined me for a conversation about postsecondary education. I asked the Jims about their experiences as cultural people in a western academic setting. They all agreed that, in some ways, they have to choose one or the other staying in school or participating fully in cultural practices. Like the traditions of many Indigenous nations, W̱SÁNEĆ cultural practices require a lot of time and dedication. Practicing their culture is not something the Jims can do halfway. It is a full commitment. Marissa said that sacrifices are almost inevitable when attending school. Still, all three of them draw strength from their cultural identities, and connect in smaller ways whenever possible.
Mataya, who finished her university transfer studies at Camosun in 2015, expressed that the choice between culture and academia puts Indigenous students in conflict; “The cultural life comes with a lot of support and teachings that help us handle challenges. Culture is so necessary for our wellbeing, but too often we are forced to choose between surviving in the western world, and fully embracing our traditions.” Mataya felt that the Indigenous Studies courses at Camosun allowed her to bring her culture with her to school. She was able to walk in both worlds for a time.
Despite the struggle to stay grounded in a system that often fails to recognize and accommodate cultural needs, Mataya feels that learning about the world outside Indigenous communities has been valuable for her. She spoke of seeing a bigger picture, which will inform her future choices as an Indigenous professional. Mataya’s path is openended. She intends to be guided by opportunities that present themselves as she works on her degree in Sociology at the University of Victoria.
Marissa, who is in the first year of the Indigenous Studies diploma program at Camosun, also spoke of discovering a larger picture. For Marissa, it was her views on education. Last year, she completed the Indigenous College Preparation program. Prior to that experience, Marissa blamed herself for not completing parts of her formal education. Once Marissa learned more about Indigenous-centred education, she began to understand that her learning style had not been included in her previous experiences in school. She now has a strong vision of the path ahead of her. After completing her diploma, she will head to the University of Victoria to become an anthropologist, with training in archaeology. She is learning SENĆOŦEN, the language of the W̱SÁNEĆ people, and intends to study her own community’s history, culture, language and land.
Glenn is a midcareer professional, who has been in postsecondary studies on and off since the 90s. Between schooling, Glenn has worked for his nation on community development projects and cultural programming. While the education he’s taken from Camosun has been helpful in his professional life, Glenn noted that some jobs require certain credentials. He is set to complete his diploma in Indigenous Business Leadership this semester, then begin the final two years of his Bachelors in Business Administration at Camosun. Glenn feels that academic learning is important, but life learning and cultural learning are necessary too. Once Glenn is finished his BBA, he will return to working on community development and possibly enter the world of entrepreneurship. Whatever path he takes, Glenn knows that sharing culture and building relationships will remain at the centre of his work.
In many ways, the Jims are an extraordinary bunch. All of them carry a sharp intellect, a keen sense of humour, and a passion for hard work. They are well known on campus for being friendly, generous, and helpful. From another perspective, the Jims are also a fairly typical Indigenous family. They tease and laugh with each other, banter about little things, and rely on each other for a sense of home and grounding. They face challenges unique to Indigenous people in the westernized world, some of which are magnified in the school system.
Eyēʔ Sqȃ’lewen at Camosun College draws guidance from the generous local peoples to create better pathways for Indigenous students. The Jim family is one of several W̱SÁNEĆ families who have brought their strength, kindness, and wisdom to the college over the past 25 years. During my interview with the Jims, one thing was abundantly clear; culture and community are the foundation of their intergenerational success. Glenn, Marissa, and Mataya all have their own ways of managing the responsibilities of school, family, and community life, but the driving force behind all of their hard work is culture and holding up the W̱SÁNEĆ Nation.