Selkirk College has launched an Elders Program, based out of its Castlegar Campus at the Gathering Place.
Elders from surrounding communities have been offering support at Selkirk for around three years now, but in September the college decided to launch a more formal program.
“It’s kind of been informally running now … since the opening of the Gathering Place, where we’ve had Elders from throughout the region really supporting the work that we’re doing,” said Jessica Morin, Aboriginal services liaison at Selkirk. “So we’ve had Elders coming to various events and activities, but not as a formal program.”
On Sept. 24, the college held an event at the Gathering Place to launch the program.
“[The program] was an opportunity to bring many of the Elders who have been supporting us on an ongoing basis together,” said Morin. “So we had an event to honour them and to signify the importance of that program, and sort of our hopes to see that expand to something more regular and accessible to students.”
Morin and others involved with the program are still working on deciding exactly what it will be once it’s further developed.
Morin has done research into other Elders programs offered at other post-secondary schools, and found that they are very diverse in their approach. Selkirk is also unique in that many Elders have contributed on an ongoing basis over the years, across Selkirk’s eight campuses, so it will be up to those involved to decide what will work best for the Elders program at Selkirk.
The Elders provide cultural support for Aboriginal students, both current and perspective.
“If they come to events and activities and there are Elders there, then typically what the Elders bring is a … certain level of cultural grounded-ness to whatever event we’re doing,” said Morin.
The Gathering Place itself is meant to support Aboriginal students from all over who have left their communities to come to school, and having Elders available for support adds to that.
“People move here from all over the place, and so it’s like coming here …, if you’re used to living in a small community with your family and you have grandmas, and aunts, and uncles, and cousins, and everybody around all the time, and then you move to somewhere where you don’t know anyone that can be a real culture shock, and it can actually really impact a students well being,” explains Morin.
The Gathering Place and the Elders program give those students a place to connect and share their culture while they’re away.
Non-Aboriginal students can also benefit from getting to know Elders in the community, as can the staff and faculty at Selkirk.
“We have our events open to anyone to attend, so I’ve seen that quite a few times over the years people, you know, develop a relationship with certain Elders,” said Morin. “Also, it’s a great opportunity for the staff and faculty if they’re interested in making connections with Elders or asking for advice with something that they might want to try in a course or have an Elder come as a guest to their class.”
Elders in the program travel from all over, including Nakusp, Kaslo, Cranbrook, the Okanagan, and Washington state, and are from a number of different nations, including Sinixt, Okanagan, Ktunaxa, Cree, Métis, and Ojibway. Many of them are also language speakers, and while the school doesn’t currently offer language courses for credit, they do offer some two-day courses through continuing education.
The program is supported by Columbia Power, Fortis BC, and Tech Trail Operations.
Since the program formerly launched in September there has been an Elder on campus at least two days a week.