The Snuneymuxw First Nation's Geraldine Manson has been appointed as the first full-time Elder-in-Residence at Vancouver Island University.
The Elder-in-Residence position at VIU provides guidance and support to aboriginal and nonaboriginal students, and will now share traditional knowledge and practices in the faculty of health and human services.
Manson has worked in the Elder role with VIU for the past six years and has spent the past 17 years as the elder co-ordinator for her community.
She will continue her position at Shq'apthut, the Aboriginal Gathering Place, providing support and guidance to faculty, staff and students at the university in addition to her new role. "Geraldine has a wealth of knowledge about traditional practices, cultural history and language in her Nation," said HHS dean Carol Stuart.
"Even if students just scratch the surface of what she knows, and take a very small teaching out of their interaction with her, they will know much more about their culture if they come from the Snuneymuxw First Nation, or will be able to take what they learn to work with people in aboriginal communities."
A key part of Manson's role with HHS will be to help move aboriginal knowledge further into the regular curriculum.
Stuart said that while there are two HHS programs at VIU campuses in Nanaimo and Cowichan, the First Nations child and youth care diploma and health care assistant - aboriginal focus program, targeted at aboriginal students, the goal is to include aboriginal perspectives and knowledge in all HHS programs.
"Any student, no matter who they are, and which health care program they're in, will learn about aboriginal perspectives," said Stuart.
"Elders will be coming into the classroom to talk about their beliefs and practices related to the curriculum."
Manson said she is looking forward to expanding her role as Elder-in-Residence to HHS, a faculty she has worked with over the past several years.
She helped organize the Seasons of Health and Healing Forum co-ordinated by HHS and held at VIU earlier this year.
Manson's work as an Elder for her community, and part-time at VIU for the past eight years, has its roots in her experiences as a child in B.C.'s residential school system, followed by a turbulent young life in seven different foster homes before returning home to her community as a young woman.
Her first cultural teachings came from her mother-in-law, Emily Manson, with whom she lived first at age 15 while still in foster care and as a young mother after meeting her husband of 47 years, Earl Manson.
Learning from her mother-inlaw about her culture and language, along with the skills she would need to support a home and family, inspired Manson to pursue education at the then Malaspina University-College.
Beginning in the 1970s, she trained as a hairdresser, then as a medical office clerk, and longterm care aide.
It was the Elders from Snuneymuxw who urged her to use her skills and compassion to train as a "pre-Elder," rather than continuing to train and work directly in health care.
"They said 'we need you here, to continue to learn the language, the land, the history, and be our legs and our eyes when we can no longer do so,'" Manson said.
Through her work for her First Nation, Manson met former VIU Elder-in-Residence Ellen White, who opened the door to her work at the university.
"She was the one who continued my training when the Elders were no more," she said.
"Auntie Ellen was the first Elder-in-Residence at VIU, and she is my mentor and advisor."
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