Aboriginal Elders-in-Residence at Vancouver Island University (VIU) have been recognized for the knowledge they share and the important role they play at the institution, with the signing of a new agreement that accords them a special faculty designation.
Elders who work at VIU campuses in Nanaimo, Powell River and Cowichan were honoured in a traditional ceremony Sept. 25 at Shq’apthut, the Aboriginal Gathering Place at VIU, witnessed by students, faculty, staff, and BC’s Shqwi qwal, Shawn A-in-chut Atleo.
President and Vice-Chancellor Dr. Ralph Nilson said the recognition of Elders at VIU is a sign of great respect for their generosity in sharing ancient Indigenous wisdom and teachings.
“In Canada, the residential schools led to education being seen as a very repressive tool for many years by Aboriginal people,” Dr. Nilson said. “We have also experienced and we’ve come to understand with the Elders’ help, that education is the tool that is going to help us move forward.”
Elders-in-Residence were first hired by VIU in the mid-1990s. Today, there are nine Elders who work at VIU’s three campuses in Nanaimo, Cowichan and Powell River.
The letter of agreement signed earlier this year creates a new classification of employment for the Elders-in-Residence, one that formally recognizes them as “gifted faculty who provide a unique and highly regarded knowledge contribution to VIU and the VIU community.”
Atleo, who served as VIU’s first Chancellor, recognized VIU’s Elders for sharing the “brilliance and wisdom of Indigenous knowledge,” and for showing great patience not only in working with students and faculty, but in having persevered through many years of struggle.
“VIU is recognizing you as faculty, for the wisdom that you carry,” Atleo said.
Sherry McCarthy, chairperson of the VIU Students’ Union and a member of the Mowachaht/Muchahlaht First Nation, thanked the Elders for their kindness, wisdom and guidance to students.
“I am so grateful that we have so many students coming to this University and being welcomed by you,” she said. “Elders make us feel at home.”