Corrine Michel Indigenization Coordinator
“These stories tell us who we are, how we belong, how we behave and relate to the earth,” says Corrine, adding that values of environmental stewardship and sustainability, “stem from the idea that the earth is our relation – it’s a foundational tenet of an indigenous way of being.”
“Sustainability is a way of being,” she notes, “it’s built into cultural ceremonies and rituals.”
Corrine Michel - Fostering Indigenous Ways of Knowing, Being, Doing and Relating
Connections between a resilient environment, social health and cultural wellbeing have been a part of traditional indigenous ways of being for millennia. There is knowledge to be gleaned from the traditions and values of Indigenous peoples; this was made clear when we met with Camosun’s Indigenization Coordinator, Corrine Michel.
Camosun College is situated on the traditional territories of the Lkwungen (Esquimalt and Songhees), and W̱SÁNEĆ (Pauquachin, Tsartlip, Tsawout, Tseycum) peoples. The college’s name “Camosun” (adopted in 1971) is a Lkwungen word meaning “where different waters meet and are transformed.” Since then, the college has educated thousands of First Nations students from Nations across the country and plays an active role in engaging the greater community.
Corrine received a B.Ed and her MA in Environmental Education from the University of Victoria, and had taught for ten years within the First Nations Education department for the Greater Victoria School District before she came to Camosun in 2004.
Corrine recalls a few experiences in her early adult years that piqued her interest in First Nations culture. The Oka Crisis, a 78-day standoff from July to September 1990 between Mohawk protesters, police, and the army over the proposed expansion of a golf course on land that included a Mohawk burial site is an example. The crisis sparked something within Corrine and she began to identify more strongly with her First Nations roots; it gave her a sense of pride – “something about a group of people willing to go to such lengths to protect the stand of pines and what it represented just resonated” she recalls.
While working on her Masters of Arts in Environmental Education, Corrine became aware of different learning techniques and educational traditions. She also saw the importance of understanding, preserving and encouraging Indigenous knowledge and pedagogies – a role she has found herself in now as she focuses on indigenization at Camosun.
As we discuss Indigenization and Sustainability at Camosun, Corrine emphasizes how the two are deeply connected. “Sustainability is a way of being,” she notes, “it’s built into cultural ceremonies and rituals.” As Corrine gives some examples of traditional stories from the local W̱SÁNEĆ people it becomes clear that a kinship is established between the people and the earth in these stories. “These stories tell us who we are, how we belong, how we behave and relate to the earth,” says Corrine, adding that values of environmental stewardship and sustainability, “stem from the idea that the earth is our relation – it’s a foundational tenet of an indigenous way of being.”
Because sustainability is so embedded into indigenous philosophies a question comes to mind; if Camosun indigenized its policies and practices, would that subsequently result in advancing the college’s sustainable practices as well? Corrine thinks so, “I believe that. It’s so much about relationships and connections to things around us and to one another.” She goes on to explain that sustainability is really about a relationship one has with their environment and community. “In any good relationship you’re aware, you pay attention and you respect what is going on around you. You have to do your part to maintain that good relationship.”
The annual pitcook held at Camosun is a great example of this. Corrine notes that the pitcook is an opportunity to teach staff and students from Camosun and the surrounding community about the traditional ways of harvesting and perpetuate the re-emergence of traditional foods. Sustainability is an inherent part of the traditional notion of only taking what you need as those gathering the food make decisions in relationship to other species that also use the land. The pitcook is also a very community oriented practice. As the food slowly cooks there is time for visiting, laughter, singing and drumming, sharing stories and traditional knowledge which lead to the formation of relationships among one other as well.
She also mentions the Na’tsa’maht garden as another project she has been proud to play a role in creating. “It is planted with native species and provides great educational opportunities for students and visitors to Camosun.” Corrine describes the Na’tsa’maht garden as a Living Lab, explaining that students from various programs (including Environmental Technology, Indigenous Studies, Employment Training and Preparation, Health, Anthropology, and Archaeology) engage in learning in the garden. Students learn about the plants that have been used by First Nations for millennia – not only for medicinal purposes but also for food and technology (boats, ropes, paddles, etc.).
When asked what drives changes towards sustainability or indigenization at Camosun, Corrine responds without hesitation, “persistence.” She further notes, “First Nations culture is built on relationships and understanding one another – on deep conversations. Together we can create change and build something, but you must have a lot of patience and find others who are passionate.” She continues, “This is a great job. I get to share what I know about indigenization and work on meaningful projects.”
Corrine works tirelessly to infuse Aboriginal knowledge and perspective into the structural layers of Camosun and is dedicated to continuous learning. The college is grateful for the Eyēʔ Sqȃ’lewen ("good heart, good mind, and good feelings”) that Corrine brings to everything she does.
In her time outside Camosun, Corrine exercises her passion for the natural environment and strives to spend as much time as possible outdoors kayaking, hiking, and watching her dog Finnegan immerse himself in dark mud whenever he sees the opportunity.