Nanaimo Campus’s Elders-In-Residence Program welcomes Maxine Hayman Matilpi (Lakwa) and Barney Williams (Klith-wii-taa) to the team.

Elders-In-Residence programs can be found in universities across the country. VIU’s program has run since the 1990s, starting at the Cowichan Campus. At VIU, Elders can be found in roles that encompass student support, classroom instruction, teaching traditional protocols, and cross-cultural sharing. Elders are valued for their knowledge and experience, and the two newest elders each hold a long list of these qualities.

Maxine Matilpi, of Kwakiutl/Ma’amtigilia and Scottish/English descent, has been a student (when it was Malaspina University-College), as well as a professor at VIU. She remembers how important the support from Elders was for her during her time as a student, and hopes to give that same support to students as they work towards their educational goals.

“I remember when I first decided I wanted to go to law school, being afraid to say it out loud,” Matilpi said. “When I was growing up, I didn’t know any lawyers. I can be that person for students. It’s an opportunity to give back and provide mentorship for students.”

Matilpi has an extensive history in law, having worked on her graduate law degree at the University of Victoria, and works for the Revitalizing Indigenous Law for Land, Air and Water (RELAW) project, where she is project lead. RELAW works with Indigenous nations to develop written law and plans of action that are rooted in the land and history. Matilpi is also a member of “Testify: Indigenous Law and the Arts Collective.” The Testify project works on creating a dialogue about Indigenous law and its part in Canadian society.

Her role as Elder at VIU is not the first time she has been an Elder at a University. Matilpi has also been an Elder-In-Residence for North Island College. She has a diverse resume, having worked as a paramedic, first aid attendant in a logging camp, can-can girl in Dawson City, midwife, fitness instructor, and marriage commissioner.

Barney Williams, a member of the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation on Meares Island, is also a VIU alumni, having received his diploma in social work in 1973. As a survivor of residential schools, Williams has taken his own journey with PTSD and worked with his experience to help others. With a career in social work and in counselling, Williams has supported many in healing from similar experiences.

Williams has worked with the federal government as a social worker and traveled to different communities along the west coast for 17 years. He has also worked as a registered clinical therapist at an addiction treatment center in Williams Lake. Williams traveled across Canada as one of the Indian Residential School Survivor Committee’s Elder advisors with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. In 2017, he received an honorary doctorate in Law from the University of Victoria.

A focus for Williams is how to teach mental health in a way that blends Indigenous and Western treatments, with a focus on traditional perspectives.

“I believe it’s important for Indigenous and non-Indigenous students alike to maintain a sense of knowing who they are and where they come from,” Williams said.

All students and staff are welcome to access the campus Elders for support and guidance. More information about VIU’s Elders program, and how to contact them, can be found here.