September 26, 2013 - 5:30am

The first full-time Elder-in-Residence at Vancouver Island University provides guidance and support to Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students, and will now share traditional knowledge and practices in the Faculty of Health and Human Services (HHS). Geraldine Manson of Snuneymuxw First Nation, who has worked in the Elder role with VIU for the past six years, was appointed as the first Elder-in-Residence for HHS for the current academic year.

“Geraldine has a wealth of knowledge about traditional practices, cultural history and language in her Nation,” says HHS Dean Carol Stuart. “Even if students just scratch the surface of what she knows, and take a very small teaching out of their interaction with her, they will know much more about their culture, if they come from Snuneymuxw First Nation, or will be able to take what they learn to work with people in Aboriginal communities.”

Manson has spent the past 17 years as the Elder coordinator for her community. While expanding her role to work with HHS students and Faculty and assisting with curriculum development, Geraldine will continue her position at Shq’apthut, the Aboriginal Gathering Place, providing support and guidance to Faculty, staff and students at VIU.

“Since her additional duties with Health and Human Services at VIU will make her the first full-time Elder at VIU, Chief White and her community have agreed to ‘loan’ her to us. She's trained someone to take over her duties in her community,” says Stuart. “I am most grateful for the support of the Snuneymuxw Nation and their willingness to support VIU.”

A key part of Manson’s role with HHS will be to help move Aboriginal knowledge further into the regular curriculum. While there are two HHS programs at VIU campuses in Nanaimo and Cowichan targeted at Aboriginal students – the First Nations Child and Youth Care diploma, and Health Care Assistant– Aboriginal Focus – the goal, says Stuart, is to include Aboriginal perspectives and knowledge in all HHS programs.

“Any student, no matter who they are, and which health care program they're in, will learn about Aboriginal perspectives,” says Stuart. ‘Elders will be coming into the classroom to talk about their beliefs and practices related to the curriculum.”

Manson is looking forward to expanding her role as Elder-in-Residence to HHS, a Faculty she has worked with over the past several years. She helped organize and co-chair the Seasons of Health and Healing Forum coordinated by HHS and held at VIU in May 2013.

Manson’s work as an Elder for her community, and part-time at VIU for the past eight years, has its roots in her experiences as a child in BC’s residential school system, followed by a turbulent young life in seven different foster homes before returning home to her community as a young woman.

Her first cultural teachings came from her beloved mother-in-law, Emily Manson, with whom she lived first at age 15 while still in foster care and as a young mother after meeting her husband of 47 years, Earl Manson. Learning from her mother-in-law about her culture and language, along with the skills she would need to support a home and family, inspired Manson to pursue education at the then Malaspina College. Beginning in the 1970s, she trained as a hairdresser, then as a medical office clerk, and long-term care aide.

It was the Elders from Snuneymeuxw who urged her to use her skills and compassion to train as a ‘pre-Elder’, rather than continuing to train and work directly in health care.

“They said ‘we need you here, to continue to learn the language, the land, the history, and be our legs and our eyes when we can no longer do so,” Manson says.

Through her work for her Nation, Manson met former VIU Elder-in-Residence Ellen White, who opened the door to her work at the university. “She was the one who continued my training when the Elders were no more,” she said. “Auntie Ellen was the first Elder-in-Residence at VIU, and she is my mentor and advisor. I was proud to be there when she received the Honourary Doctorate of Laws from VIU in 2006.”

Today, with a full and busy life including three children, eight grandchildren, and one great grandchild, Manson can be found welcoming Faculty to a regular gathering, counselling a student at Shq’apthut, or working with new students in a HHS classroom. She shares her wisdom where it’s required, and “if I can’t offer it, I will bring in other traditional knowledge keepers.”


Shari Bishop Bowes, Communications Officer, Vancouver Island University
P:250.740.6443 C: 250.618.1535 E: T: @viunews

Tags: In the Community

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