Elders mentor First Nations students

February 24, 2005, vol. 32, no. 4
By Diane Luckow



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Forty years ago, charter student Henry Jack may have been the only First Nations student on the SFU campus.

Today Jack, who worked for 30 years in the SFU library until his retirement in 1996, is back on campus to mentor the growing number of First Nations students at SFU.

Jack, who earned a BA in political science in 1969, is one of four First Nations elders to participate in a new elders council initiated by the First Nations student centre (FNSC).

Centre director Sasha Hobbs established the council last fall after learning that an elders' council was integral to the success of the Nicola Valley Institute of Technology, a First Nations institution.

“We need to maintain our cultures and values within the institution and having elders present helps not only students but staff and faculty to maintain a cultural identity,” explains Hobbs. As well, she notes, elders traditionally played an important role in aboriginal education.

Elders Barbara Charlie, Margaret George, Henry Jack and Margaret Harris each spend one-half day a week in their elders room in the FNSC, ready to participate in FNSC activities, listen to students' problems, impart First Nations oral history or give advice on First Nations traditional practices and protocols. The elders also attend meetings and events across campus, and have been invited into classrooms as guest speakers. All have extensive professional and volunteer experience in working with First Nations community groups.

“Just having an elder present is sometimes all a student needs to get through a difficult day,” says Hobbs. “Knowing that someone understands them, who they are, where they come from and why they might be feeling certain things, helps.”

Funded by the ministry of advanced education, the elders' council is a pilot project that Hobbs hopes will receive further funding. “I think they're making a big difference on campus,“ she says.

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