New Program for Indigenous Elders and Residential and Day School Survivors Launches at VIU

Literacy Circle Linda jack

Indigenous Elder Linda Jack is a survivor of a Day School.

September 29, 2021 - 3:15pm

The Literacy Circle will be tailored to what each individual student wants to learn.

A new course for Indigenous Elders and Residential and Day School Survivors as well as 60s Scoop Survivors who want to learn basic language skills such as reading and writing is set to launch this October at Vancouver Island University (VIU).

The program came about after Indigenous Elder Linda Jack gathered friends and community groups to help her in her quest to learn how to read. The First Elders Training, Healing, Education and Respect Society (FETHERS) was formed and the need for a program that could meet unique educational needs was identified. The group then approached VIU requesting such a program, according to Dr. Jean Maltesen, Dean of Academic and Career Preparation.

Jack’s dad was a Residential School Survivor and she herself is a survivor of a Day School – an experience that has left her without a proper education.

“I am fighting for those that have passed, I am fighting for those that are here but forgotten and I am fighting for future generations,” says Jack. “We need to get back to what was stolen before more of our people die without their dignity and respect returned.”

Led by Jack’s determination, Maltesen says FETHERS has been creating awareness and bringing other residential and day school survivors into the learning mix.

“Despite their horrible experiences with the education system, they want to be educated. They want to be able to read to their grandchildren, read recipes, drive a car, fill out forms and participate in other activities that require reading, writing or arithmetic,” she adds.

And while literacy programs are offered through VIU’s Adult Basic Education Program (ABE), Maltesen says those who have expressed interest in the new program “don’t really see themselves fitting into that model, particularly because there are specific outcomes we must meet, according to provincially articulated courses. These learners want to have some input into what they are learning and we can help with that.”

Called The Literacy Circle, the program is classified as “an invitation and opportunity for Indigenous Elders, Residential School and Day School Survivors to learn literacy and life skills in a supportive, safe and self-paced environment.”

The program’s creation is a collaborative effort between VIU, Literacy Central Vancouver Island, FETHERS and several other community partners.

The tuition-free, seven-week course, which Maltesen calls “a first step,” will be guided and structured based on what each individual student wants to learn.

An Indigenous instructor who has worked within Maltesen’s faculty for a number of years has been hired to teach the program. Classes will be capped at 16 students and tutors are also being brought in to further assist the students.

The official deadline for students to apply is October 1, although Maltesen notes late applications will be accepted until October 15. Students can register by emailing or by calling 250-740-6425 to have a receptionist walk them through the process. The program begins October 18 and will run on Mondays and Wednesdays from 1:30 to 3:30 pm, until December 3. Lunch will also be provided free of charge to the students before the start of class each day. The program will take place in Building 205 at VIU’s Nanaimo campus.

Grants are available to cover student service fees, and a free bus pass and textbooks are provided as part of the grant. Other school supplies will also be provided. Students will also have access to VIU services including the library, advising, counselling and the gym.

For Maltesen, the implementation of this program is another step in the Truth and Reconciliation process.

“I was compelled to do something after witnessing the courage of this group of learners who want to return to education after what they’ve been through,” she says. “We need to support all learners and even though this group have had horrific experiences with education, they still understand how important it is and are still willing to work through their trauma by trying again and participating in this learning opportunity.”

The Literacy Circle is generously sponsored by Country Grocer, London Drugs, AC Taxi, Insight Indigenous Anti-Racism Services, High Road Clothing and KKP Design and Print. For more information about FETHERS, contact Mary Desprez at or call 250-381-7187.



Eric Zimmer, Communications Officer, Vancouver Island University

P:  250.618.7296 | E:

Tags: Teaching and Learning

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