VIU Seeks Indigenous High School Students for Youth Camps in August

VIU alumni Morgan Mowatt and Troy Barnes, and Elder-in-Residence Gary Manson, are looking forward to welcoming Indigenous youth to VIU for two summer camp programs this August.

June 20, 2017 - 2:15pm

The two free four-day camps combine cultural activities with outdoor activities and mini-lectures and aim to help youth make the transition to university

When Troy Barnes recalls his first day of college, he still feels the blood rise to his face as feelings of humiliation, fear and isolation come rushing back.

Barnes, a member of the Klahoose Nation with Homalco roots as well, had just moved to a big city from the small town of Powell River, where he had lived all his life with his parents. He got lost looking for parking, then he got lost trying to find the building his first class was in. When he arrived late, the entire class stared at him as he walked in, including the professor, who went on to announce that he expected 50% of the students in that class to fail.

“That first day was so horrible, I didn't want to go back,” he remembers. “I didn't have any friends there, I didn't feel like I had the support I needed to succeed. I dropped out at the end of that first semester.”

Barnes had better luck on his second try at university when he came to VIU and became an active member of VIU’s ‘Su’luqw’a’ Community Cousins Aboriginal mentorship program. It worked because he felt like he was joining – and contributing to – a community.

This sense of belonging at university is what VIU hopes to achieve with a new, free summer camp program for Indigenous students on offer at VIU’s Nanaimo Campus starting this August.

“The vision is to build relationships with the students in the camp, show them university can be lots of fun and is for them, and then help them make the transition,” says Barnes, camp coordinator, who graduated in June with a Bachelor of Arts in First Nations Studies and History. “We want them to feel like it’s a place where they belong.”

The Thuy’she’num Tu Smun’eem summer camps, for Indigenous youth from Grades 8-12, aim to increase the number of Indigenous students moving on to post-secondary. In 2014-15, the percentage of Indigenous students transitioning from high school to post-secondary in the regions VIU serves was just over 41%. To help increase this percentage, VIU has received a grant of more than $300,000 from The Peter Cundill Foundation to run the program every summer for the next three years.

“The Peter Cundill Foundation is very pleased to enable these summer camps as part of its programs to support youth well-being through our education and mental health initiatives,” says Christopher Risso-Gill, Senior Consultant for The Peter Cundill Foundation.

The camps combine interactive games and outdoor activities such as swimming, paddling and hiking, with mini-seminars on topics like public speaking, poetry, financial literacy and blogging, and cultural lessons such as Elder teachings and land-based learning trips. They take place August 11-14 and 17-20 and will be based at VIU’s Nanaimo Campus, with students staying in VIU Residences.

Indigenous students from across Vancouver Island and Powell River are invited to apply for the camps, which are organized by students in VIU’s ‘Su’luqw’a’ Community Cousins program.

“A lot of Indigenous students live in remote communities and haven’t really left home before,” says Barnes. “During the camp, they’ll experience what it’s like to be away from their families so in a year or two, when it’s time to consider their options after high school, they will think, ‘I’ve been there before, I can do this.’”

Staying in residence, students will get familiar with the campus layout. Equally important are the connections they will make – six Community Cousins students will be assisting with the camp as well as Elders and VIU faculty and staff, so those who make the transition will see a few familiar faces.

“This program is all about networking and showing them culture and education go hand in hand here,” says VIU Elder-in-Residence Gary Manson, who will take students to Newcastle Island for land-based teachings.

Sylvia Scow, VIU’s Aboriginal Projects Coordinator, says students will leave with a sense of how the support system at VIU goes beyond academics.

“The academic piece is important, but we recognize that where you come from is also important,” she says. “Who you are as an individual is important, as well as who you want to be and what you want to do to give back. They’ll see that VIU cares about this and that we’re not asking them to give that up.” 

For more information, email Barnes at



Jenn McGarrigle, Communications Officer, Vancouver Island University

P: 250.740.6559 | C: 250.619.6860 | E: | T: @VIUNews

About The Peter Cundill Foundation

Established in 2012, The Peter Cundill Foundation honours the legacy of renowned Canadian investment fund manager and philanthropist, F. Peter Cundill FCA, CFA, 1938-2011. The Foundation has an emphasis on promoting the health, education and well-being of young people. 

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