For many of our Indigenous students, Canada’s education system has been a traumatic experience. Over the decades, we have experienced lower levels of education compared to the general population. It is well known that Indigenous peoples of Canada, including First Nations, Métis, and Inuit, have faced many mental health challenges. For the Indigenous population, suicide rates are shockingly high compared to the average Canadian. The root of these mental health problems is widely believed to be from the impacts of colonization, and historical determinants, such as the history of Indian residential schools, have also had an impact on the mental health of Indigenous people. So, what has VIU done to help overcome these challenges for the Indigenous community?

The Truth and Reconciliation Call to Action #22 calls upon those who can affect the change within the Canadian healthcare system to recognize the values of Indigenous healing practices and collaborate with Elders. Indigenous people had their own education systems prior to the European settlers’ colonization, and knowledge has been community-based and passed on by oral tradition. Mental wellness can be supported by culture, language, family, elders, and community life. Indigenous peoples have always embraced physical, mental, and spiritual well-being through approaches that respect and value Indigenous knowledge and ways of knowing; wellness in Indigenous cultures is about being in harmony and balance while focusing on personal strengths rather than weaknesses.

How does culture guide us?

Sustaining a strong cultural identity is a key component of Indigenous wellbeing. Elders make it clear that, as Indigenous peoples, culture guides our work. Culture is the centre of mental wellness and it is an important social determinant of our health. When using culture as a foundation, we attend to our spirits, mind, body, and emotions.

What support does VIU offer for Indigenous students?

Support can be found at Shq’apthut. Shq’apthutalso known as The Gathering Place is the home of Services for Aboriginal Students and is located in building 170. Shq’apthut is the gathering place for all First Nations, Status, Non-Status, Métis, and Inuit students, but is also open to all of the VIU campus community. Shq’apthut offers a safe and welcoming space for all Indigenous students by respecting cultural values and sacred knowledge. The foundations that Shq’apthut has created here at VIU ensures that Indigenous students have strength and resilience.

VIU’s Elders-in-Residence are available five days a week to assist students and staff by providing counselling, support, and guidance. The Elders are our most valuable resources. Elders are often referred to as “Auntie” or “Uncle” by students; this is a sign of respect and affection.

The Elders from the Nanaimo Campus are:

Swus-tanulwut – Auntie Delores Louie – Chemainus First Nation (First Nations Studies)
C-tasi:a – Auntie Geraldine Manson – Snuneymuxw First Nation (Health & Human Services)
Auntie Stella Johnson – Métis
Xulsimalt – Uncle Gary Manson – Snuneymuxw First Nation
Klith-wii-taa – Uncle Barney Williams Jr. – Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation

For anyone looking for counselling from an Indigenous perspective, some resources include:

Noelle Hanuse – VIU Aboriginal Counsellor
Bldg. 200, rm 319

Kuu’us Crisis Line: First Nations Helping First Nations
Call for 24 hour help: 1-800-588-8717