Summer camp makes transition to university easier for Indigenous students

From left: Falon Crosby, Clarissa Peter, Hayden Taylor and Theresa Johnny are planning out an exciting lineup of events for students participating in Thuy’she’num Tu Smun’eem Indigenous summer camp. || Vancouver Island University photo
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A free summer camp for Indigenous youth will connect students with culture, build community and make the transition to university easier, according to Vancouver Island University (VIU).

The Thuy’she’num Tu Smun’eem: Building a Foundation for our Youth summer camp runs July 6– August 18 and is open to students in grades 7–12. 

It is organized and run by students in VIU’s ‘su’luqw’a’ Community Cousins Aboriginal mentorship program. The camp will feature cultural teachings, personal development and goal setting workshops, land-based learning exercises, interactive games and outdoor activities. VIU said the goal is to get Indigenous youth to see themselves as belonging at post-secondary institutions and to show them they do not have to leave their culture behind when they attend.

“The camp is a wonderful opportunity to connect with the S’ul-hween (elders), our VIU community, students, our team and the xe’ xe’ tumuhw (sacred land),” said Falon Crosby, one of the camp coordinators and a recent graduate of VIU’s post baccalaureate program in Education. “Our main themes for the summer camp are mentorship and culture. The camp fosters an environment where students can create meaningful connections with elders, peers, mentors, coordinators and themselves. Our aim is to help the youth to find out who they are and where they are going.”

Students will meet three days a week and activites will include both online and in-person elements, following public health guidelines. 

Students in grades 10–12 will start July 6 and go through mentorship training so that they can support the grades 7–9 students when they start the following week.

“We’re building a community of peers who can support and lift each other up,” said Clarissa Peter, program coordinator with VIU’s Office of Indigenous Education & Engagement and a VIU graduate. “We will focus on honing leadership skills and the importance of balancing culture and academics and help students develop confidence, leadership and life skills.”

Crosby, who is of Shíshálh, Quw’utsun, Tsimshian (Kitselas), European, Hawaiian, Central and South American origin, struggled to feel like she could be successful at university and has been on a journey to reclaim and honour her Indigenous culture.

Education student Hayden Taylor, a member of the Haisla Nation in Kitimat, grew up in the foster care system and did not connect with his culture until he started university and had the chance to volunteer with the local Indigenous community around VIU. He said he is excited to help others explore their identity as he did and show them how it has impacted his own life.

“Providing a fun, exciting and safe environment for youth to learn is a passion of mine and a reason why I wanted to get involved with Thuy’she’num Tu Smun’eem,” he said. “Welcoming elders, educators, peers and communities into my life has allowed me to explore and start to learn my native language and start to teach my own two children the language.”

The camps have been running at VIU since 2017, thanks to the generosity of the Peter Cundill Foundation which has given VIU a grant to run the program for the past five years. Established in 2012, the foundation honours the legacy of renowned Canadian investment fund manager and philanthropist Peter Cundill and has an emphasis on promoting the health, education and well-being of young people.

“We are grateful to all of our community partners for their financial support of Indigenous students at VIU and programming that helps youth feel confident in attending university,” said Sylvia Scow, VIU’s manager of Indigenous protocol.

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