Elders-in-residence program growing at Cumberland College
- Emma Meldrum | April 20, 2017
Cumberland College is hoping to make the teachings and wisdom of First Nations and Métis leaders more accessible.
About 20 of these elders gathered in Tisdale to talk about a fledgling elders-in-residence program for the college’s staff and students.
They came from areas like Kinistin, James Smith, Shoal Lake, Cumberland House and Fishing Lake. Some were Métis, some spoke Cree, and many had experienced life in residential schools.
Despite their differences, they had one goal in common: to assist students.
“I would like to share stories and I would like to share history with them,” said Shirley Wolfe-Keller, an elder from Fishing Lake First Nation near Wadena. “I would like to share our way of life back then, how it is now and how it will be in the future.”
She said she would like to share culture and traditional teachings with students.
“All of that today seems to have gone on the wayside, but it’s not lost. We have it; we just need the teachings to come alive.”
Evelyn Burns from James Smith recalled speaking at a school in Aberdeen and being asked if she still lived in a teepee. She said there is a knowledge gap that needs to be bridged.
Riley Burns, for his part, said he would like to promote and educate kids to help them graduate.
Tom Weegar, president and CEO of Cumberland College, said that this program has been in the works for a few years, but he hopes to have elders in place within a few weeks.
“I think the goal is really to have a greater degree of supports for our students that elders can provide,” said Weegar.
“I often talk with my faculty and staff about teaching Indigenous competencies to our students so that our students are aware of the history of colonization in the country…how federal government policies have been used to put down First Nations and Indigenous communities and how communities are breaking free of that in a variety of ways.”
Elder programs are common in educational institutions in the province, with the University of Regina taking what Weegar described as a leadership role across the country.
“It’s really phenomenal stuff. Really what we’re doing is kind of emulating some of their successes as well.”
RBC and the RBC Foundation have contributed funds to make the elders-in-residence program possible for the year.
“That’s exciting too, that other people are recognizing our success and want to be a part of it.”
Weegar said that the program could be useful for faculty as well.
“Faculty can approach an Elder and say for example, I’m teaching this aspect of business in my class right now, can you recommend an Elder or a leader that I can bring in to talk about Indigenous aspects of that business.”
Since 2014, Cumberland College has worked to ‘indigenize’, aiming to break down barriers and open students and staff to Indigenous perspectives.