media release

Elders provide support at SFU

October 02, 2011
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Contact:
William Lindsay, 778.782.8924, wlindsay@sfu.ca
Carol Thorbes, PAMR, 778.782.3035, cthorbes@sfu.ca

William Lindsay
Photos on Flickr

Under a new program recommended in Simon Fraser University’s Aboriginal Strategic Plan and launched by SFU’s Office for Aboriginal Peoples (OAP), First Nations elders are bringing their expertise, life experience and cultural wisdom to campus.

The Elders Program draws on First Nations communities’ centuries-old belief in the power of their elders as leaders to help today’s students, faculty and staff deal with modern life. They will also educate the university about numerous aspects of Aboriginal life and culture.

“There was perhaps nothing officially called an elders program in traditional communities but elders were certainly involved in all aspects and at all levels of the workings of traditional society,” says OAP director William Lindsay. “Hence, a group of elders who made up a leadership group in traditional times would be similar to what has evolved today in many post-secondary institutions, such as SFU.”

As SFU’s charter First Nations elders, Margaret George (Tsleil-Waututh Nation) and Jim White (Heiltsuk Nation) at the Burnaby campus, and Evelyn Locker (Blackfoot Nation) at the Surrey campus, aim to be pervasive in their presence.

“The elders will be involved in so many aspects of campus life,” says Lindsay, “their presence will benefit the community as a whole, not just people of Aboriginal descent. The elders’ duties include the following: mentoring, cultural support, special events support, service as an advisory group, supervision of culturally-oriented courses and workshops, and lunch and one-on-one meetings with students, staff and faculty.”

Other duties include:

  • Involvement in traditional cleansing and ceremonial activities
  • Providing grounding and support for students
  • Teaching about the medicine wheel
  • Teaching aspects of First Nations history and culture
  • Assisting in formalizing Aboriginal protocols
  • Teaching traditional games such as bone, hand and drum games
  • Providing Aboriginal language support

Elders George and White will alternate in the performance of elder duties at the Burnaby campus. They will meet with students, staff and faculty from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. on Thursdays at the Indigenous Student Centre. They will then have office hours from 1-2 p.m. in the OAP to meet with staff and faculty.

Elder Locker, who has been working with the SFU Surrey Aboriginal Pre-University Bridging Program for the last few years, will expand her duties as an elder at the campus. The Bridging Program helps Aboriginal people strengthen their academic performance in areas where they may need assistance, as they prepare for undergraduate studies.

A special ad hoc committee composed of SFU staff of Aboriginal descent, a First Nations elder and a Squamish Nation member developed qualifications, expected duties and a list of recommended candidates for the Elders Program.

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