Vancouver Island University Mentorship program for Aboriginal “su’luqw’a” students of community cousins celebrated its 10e anniversary in September 2021. In honor of this milestone, we share stories of people closely related to the program each month ahead of the anniversary. Stay tuned for a celebratory event in February 2022 – when we hope to get together in person.
The “su’luqw’a” community cousins program builds the capacity of mentors to develop leadership and employability skills through outreach and mentoring activities. Students hone their skills in self-awareness, communication, leadership, self-care, and exploring personal values, with an emphasis on ‘telling your story’ as a path to empowerment through awareness of others.
When Leanor Hampton arrived at VIU in 2010, she struggled with feelings of not being “smart enough” to be successful in college. Joining the Community Cousins mentoring program helped her learn from the experiences of others and she realized that she was not alone and that each student has their own challenges. Five years later, Hampton graduated from the Bachelor of Social Work program and went to work for Kw’umut Lelum’s Child and Family Services.
What made you choose VIU?
I chose VIU because I reside in the Snuneymuxw First Nations community and the Bachelor of Social Work program was being developed into an online program. It worked really well for me as I wanted to stay close to home during my post-secondary education and not have to worry about traveling far every day.
How did you get involved with the Community Cousins?
When I started at VIU, I was a mature student and needed to be confident – that I was “smart enough” to go to college and be successful. I stayed after class every day to seek clarification and support from my teachers, then I went to Shq’apthut, VIU’s indigenous gathering place, to do my homework. At Shq’apthut, I connected with Sylvia Scow [Acting Director of VIU’s Office of Indigenous Education and Engagement] and I saw that on some days she was meeting with students and an Elder in Residence to strategize on how to support 12th grade students and new students on campus. They shared their experiences, their strengths and their hope, and it helped me develop the courage to do my best during my university studies. In addition, community cousins would take new students on a tour so that on their first day on campus they would have an idea of where to go and who to see for help on various topics. . New students would see a familiar face or space that would help reduce any levels of anxiety they might be feeling. I really liked what I saw with the Model Students and wanted to be part of this wonderful opportunity to support current and future students. I was also able to travel to neighboring communities to give presentations on how to be a student at VIU.
How has being part of the Cousins Community affected you?
I have learned that everyone has their own challenges and that there are various supports on campus to help. By learning what worked for others, I was able to take pieces from everyone who shared and make it work for me with my educational journey. I started to believe in myself and in my ability to do whatever I was focusing my mind and attention on. My hope was to motivate and encourage others with my story as well. The program is connected and aligned with the culture. We would get together and have a feast at the gathering place, where you can often see or hear the culture coming from this building like drumming and singing. I made it a home away from home and felt comfortable being myself as a First Nations woman.
What advice would you give to new Indigenous students at VIU?
One piece of advice I would give to new students is that no question is a dumb question. Please ask for help as there are many wonderful resources on and off campus. Additionally, any new Indigenous student should connect to the Gathering Place resources as a springboard and foundation for accessing supports in various areas. The Elders in Residence have been a great support to me and having access to counseling on campus has really helped me find myself and my courage and strength to complete my educational journey. .
What are you doing now?
I have worked with Kw’umut Lelum Child and Family Services for the past five years. I am a Le’lumilh Resource social worker and I support current caregivers in various ways and I also recruit caregivers. I help find safe homes to place children, including short term placements (emergency and weekends) to long term placements.
What do you find rewarding about your job?
I can build relationships with caregivers (First Nations and non-First Nations) and really know who they are by completing home study. I can recruit safe homes for children, families who genuinely care about supporting the growth and development of First Nations children / youth and their well-being. Not only do I work independently with caregivers, but I am part of a team within the agency that supports children / youth, parents and caregivers. My focus is on the idea that children / youth are “expanding their families” while residing with caregivers who help maintain the connection to family, community and culture.
What’s the next step for you?
With my career established in the Le’lumilh department, I plan to complete a Masters in Social Work once my three year old daughter is a little older. For now, I’m happy to be a part of the team here as I appreciate where I work and for whom I work (the children and families of the Nine Nations).