The Elders' Initiative ensures that Indigenous students and the college community can benefit from the knowledge and guidance of these important community members.
The Elders' Voices program started as a partnership between Camosun College and the University of Victoria (UVic) in 2007. The founding Elders were identified by the local communities and work closely and collaboratively with both Camosun and UVic. Since 2011, Camosun and UVic’s Elders program began to develop separately to meet the differing needs and services of each institution and, more importantly, the diverse and growing student populations. The Elders and the Elders coordinators at Camosun and UVic continue to maintain a close working relationship to ensure that the Elders who work with both our institutions are happy, healthy, and able to fulfill a very important part of the educational journey for Indigenous students.
Initially, the Elders' Voices program funded having Elders participate in classrooms and at events by sharing their knowledge and teachings. The Elders' Voices program also helped students find more balance in their education by providing some cultural, emotional, and spiritual support for Indigenous students. The Elders help students to maintain balance within the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual ways of being. Founding Elder Victor Underwood describes his job as a Camosun Elder as “fulfilling the role of grandparent to Indigenous students who are studying away from home”.
Due to the significant demand for Elders and the growing number of Indigenous students at Camosun, in 2012 the Elders' Voices program was expanded to include the Elders in Residence program. This program ensures that all students in the Indigenous College Prep, Indigenous Human Services Career Access, Indigenous Family Support, and Indigenous Studies programs have access to Elders weekly within their programs. This shift also made it possible for the Elders to participate more at a college wide level. With dedicated funding for Indigenous programs through the Elders in Residence program, the Elders' Voices program began to expand to meet the growing demand for Elders at college events and participation in non-Indigenous programs and classrooms.
In 2016, the Elders' Voices and Elders in Residences programs became the Elders' Initiative, which is completely funded by the Aboriginal Service Plan (ASP). For more information please contact the Indigenous Service Plan Projects Coordinator, Tanya Kirkland.
Role of the Elders
What is an Elder? An Elder is a person who has been identified and acknowledged by their community as someone who has learned great wisdom, knowledge, and/or an understanding of the world that comes with age and experience. An Elder is a person whose community looks to them for guidance and teachings because they are a role model for living a good life and/or overcoming great adversity.
An Elder is not necessarily an expert in all things but is someone who has great understanding of a particular kind of knowledge. This might include, but is not limited to, artistry, ceremony, language, plants and medicines, resource management, education, and/or children.
The Elders who work with Camosun take on a number of roles at the college. Foremost, they offer their knowledge and wisdom as well as cultural and spiritual guidance to all of the Indigenous students studying at Camosun. The Elders take part in many of the events (graduations, student and employee orientations, recognition ceremonies, welcome back ceremonies, important meetings) at Camosun by helping us to acknowledge territory, and open events in a positive and appropriate way. Elders are engaging with students and faculty within the classrooms and in one-on-one meetings.
Students in the IFS program have shared and reflected upon the importance of having Elders join our courses to share their experience, wisdom and resiliency. Student have reported that they have appreciated the words of encouragement and strength-based focus despite the hardships and challenges the Elders have faced. Additionally, students who are far from home or do not have connection to their own cultures have said how much they value the opportunity to sit, learn and feel grounded by the presence of Elders in the classroom.
Marcey Louie, Faculty