by Zofia Rogowski
Each June, Indigenous students graduate from programs at Camosun College in Victoria, BC, which sits on the territories of the Lkwungen and WSÁNEC peoples. The fields they study are diverse, but one thing seems to be common for most Indigenous learners at Camosun: They are pursuing an education so they can be of greater service to their families, communities, and nations. This story features two recent graduates.
Brianna Dick is from Lkwungen Territory. She also has roots in the Namgis Nation, a part of the Kwakwaka’wakw people. Like most people Indigenous to Vancouver Island, Brianna has countless connections to the many nations and communities in this region. Her partner of three and a half years, Gordy Bear (Wapiskew Muskwa), is Cree from Sandy Bay, Saskatchewan. Gordy also has Métis lineage. Brianna spent a total of three years studying at Camosun. First, she upgraded her English. She then went on to achieve a diploma in Indigenous Studies, which she finished in June of 2015. Gordy attended Camosun for a total of four years, upgrading his English and taking the Indigenous Family Support Worker program. Gordy then transferred into the Community, Family and Child Studies diploma program, which he graduated from on June 17, 2016.
Gordy chose Camosun because of its Indigenous content. He felt it offered an opportunity to be cultural in school. Brianna chose Camosun because of its proximity to home, and her family’s relationship to the school; Brianna’s grandpa, Lkwungen Elder Dr. Skip Dick, was the Native Indian Student Counsellor for Camosun in the 1970s. Since then, the Dick family has continually provided guidance, teaching, support and so much more to the Eye? Sqa’lewen Centre for Indigenous Education & Community Connections, and the college as a whole.
Postsecondary comes with unique challenges for Indigenous students. School life doesn’t always leave room for the big responsibilities many of us carry in our cultures, families, and communities. Brianna and Gordy both spoke of the support systems they found on campus, all of which were based around relationships. Many programs, especially Indigenousfocussed ones, operate on a cohort model at Camosun. Students spend their entire program with the same classmates. Gordy said, “Cohorts go on a journey together. They become your family when you’re away from family.”
Brianna saw her Indigenous Studies cohort as her family, and credited the three closest friends she had in her classes as being vital to her success in school.
Brianna spoke of the Indigenous Education office, where students are welcome to gather between classes, “I can’t remember how often I went there for support, or just to visit.” Indigenous Advisors were another big part of Gordy and Brianna’s journeys at the college. Brianna noted the importance of simply being heard by someone who cares.
Gordy cultivated relationships all over the college. Alongside the Indigenous staff and faculty, he noted the English Help Centre and the Camosun College Student Society office as places he made friends and found support. He said, “Camosun has an abundance of people willing to go the extra mile.” Gordy took going that extra mile to the heart in his practicum: “In [the Indigenous Education office], I learned how to go the extra step for my clients. There were always snacks in the office, so I bring snacks to my work. If you’re hungry, take what you need. It’s bringing the way we act at home into the workplace. It’s Indigenizing the workplace.”
Both emphasized the importance of having Elders on campus. Gordy and Brianna carry their cultural identities everywhere they go, and this behaviour is encouraged and enabled by the presence of Elders. Gordy mentioned a teaching that was particularly important to him, “Take care of yourself, so you can care for others.”
Brianna agreed that school helped her learn how to bring culture into the workplace. In Brianna’s postgrad life, she’s worked for the Victoria Native Friendship Centre as an Admin Assistant. Her time at the Friendship Centre reinforced what practicing kindness, generosity, and good relationship building in the workplace can look like. Brianna’s colleagues supported her application to the Aboriginal Youth Internship Program (AYIP), which offers Indigenous youth in BC the chance to work within government and community organizations. She was accepted, and started her new position in September of 2015.
At the beginning of AYIP, Brianna brought handmade gifts for everyone as a sign of welcoming. She wished to start her new working relationships in a good way. She also began to see where the Indigenous Studies program had taken her; Brianna interned with the BC Office of the Representative for Child and Youth, where she coordinated and facilitated a cultural competency workshop for the office staff. In this workshop, Brianna was able to share truths about Indigenous issues and cultures. She gained many of the tools she needed to meet this task while studying at Camosun.
For his own postgrad life, Gordy hopes to partake in AYIP, and continue to serve the Indigenous communities he is a part of. Gordy is determined to eventually complete a doctorate in Child and Youth Care, or a related field, but he knows the journey must be taken one day at a time. For now, his focus is to have a positive impact on Indigenous youth, to work towards a good life with Brianna, and to help carve the path to reconciliation. Brianna wishes to continue the work of her grandpa, to inspire and care for her community, and she is considering returning to school after her internship ends. They both referenced the good life having a home, food, love, and family, all while practicing their cultures.
Brianna had this advice for Indigenous learners heading to postsecondary in the future, “I’ll echo my grandpa’s teachings: Don’t be afraid to push yourself. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. It’s okay if you’re struggling. It shows you’re pushing yourself to new places. Listen to your heart it knows when you need something. Use all the help. There are many resources. Explore them!” Gordy’s advice was short and sweet, “Every step on the Red Road is one less step you have to take, and in school, you are making huge strides.”
Brianna and Gordy are two wonderful examples of the eighth fire generation. They are young people who carry the strength of their ancestors, and who seek to create a better future for the ones who have yet to come. Both of these young leaders demonstrate their commitment to culture and community daily, and have used formal education as a means to empowerment. Their stars are on the rise, and there’s no telling how bright and shining they will become.