VIU launches new education program for Indigenous Elders and residential school survivors

Indigenous Elder Linda Jack. || Submitted photo
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A new course for Indigenous Elders and residential and day school survivors who want to learn language skills such as reading and writing is set to launch this October at Vancouver Island University (VIU).

The program came about after Indigenous Elder Linda Jack gathered friends and community groups to help her quest to learn how to read. The First Elders Training, Healing, Education and Respect Society (FETHERS) was formed and the need for a program that could meet unique educational needs was identified. The group then approached VIU to request such a program, according to Dr. Jean Maltesen, dean of academic and career preparation.

Jack’s dad was a residential school survivor and she is a survivor of a day school — an experience that left her without a proper education.

“I am fighting for those that have passed, I am fighting for those that are here but forgotten and I am fighting for future generations,” she said. “We need to get back to what was stolen before more of our people die without their dignity and respect returned.”

Led by Jack’s determination, Maltesen says FETHERS has been creating awareness and bringing other residential and day school survivors into the learning mix.

“Despite their horrible experiences and with the education system, they want to be educated. They want to be able to read to their grandchildren, read recipes, drive a car, fill out forms and participate in other activities that require reading, writing or arithmetic,” she added.

And while literacy programs are offered through VIU’s Adult Basic Education Program (ABE), Maltesen said those who have expressed interest in the new program “don’t really see themselves fitting into that model, particularly because there are specific outcomes we must meet, according to provincially articulated courses. These learners want to have some input into what they are learning and we can help with that.”

The program, called the Literacy Circle, is classified as an invitation and opportunity for Indigenous Elders, residential school and day school survivors to learn literacy and life skills in a supportive, safe and self-paced environment.

The program’s creation is a collaborative effort between VIU, Literacy Central Vancouver Island, FETHERS and several other community partners.

The tuition-free, seven-week course, which Maltesen calls “a first step,” will be guided and structured based on what each individual student wants to learn.

An Indigenous instructor who has worked within Maltesen’s faculty for a number of years has been hired to teach the program. Classes will be capped at 16 students and tutors will be brought in to further assist the students.

The official deadline for students to apply is Oct. 1, although Maltesen said late applications will be accepted until Oct. 15. 

The program begins Oct. 18 and will run Mondays and Wednesdays from 1:30—3:30 pm, until Dec. 3. Lunch will also be provided free of charge to the students before the start of class each day. The program will take place in Building 205 at VIU’s Nanaimo campus.

Grants are available to cover student service fees and a free bus pass and textbooks are provided as part of the grant. Other school supplies will also be provided. Students will also have access to VIU services including the library, advising, counselling and the gym.

For Maltesen, the implementation of this program is another step in the Truth and Reconciliation process.

“I was compelled to do something after witnessing the courage of this group of learners who want to return to education after what they’ve been through,” she said. “We need to support all learners and even though this group have had horrific experiences with education, they still understand how important it is and are still willing to work through their trauma by trying again and participating in this learning opportunity.”

The Literacy Circle is generously sponsored by Country Grocer, London Drugs, AC Taxi, Insight Indigenous Anti-Racism Services, High Road Clothing and KKP Design and Print.

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