Langara College needs Indigenous staff

Halfway through strategic plan, college seeks to strengthen Indigenous relationship

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By Marco Shum

Halfway through Langara’s five-year strategic plan, the college still faces challenges retaining Indigenous staff.

Under the Indigenization section of the plan, which was unveiled in 2020, there were three main goals: implement an Indigenization strategy, maintain and deepen the college’s relations with the Musqueam First Nation and recruit and retain staff from the Indigenous community.

Graeme Joseph, executive director of Indigenous initiatives and services, said the college is still working to launch the Indigenous strategic plan and is engaging in more consultation with the Musqueam.

“Once the Indigenous strategic plan is launched, it’ll be much more detailed and focused: goals and mileposts for the college to work towards in terms of supporting indigenization reconciliation, and of course, the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and how the college can implement that,” Joseph said.

Joseph said he has made rebuilding the Indigenous education services team one of his main priorities. “Of course, there’s been some changes to staffing here within Indigenous education and services. And that, of course, has been challenging.”

Indigenous staff turnover

Wāsé Young, an Opaskwayak Cree Nation student at Langara who was at the Indigenous Gathering Space last week, said he has seen a lot of Indigenous staff leave Langara.

“I’ve seen a lot of good people leave the Indigenous student services centre. I’d just appreciate it if they could work on retaining the talented and educated staff they currently have,” Young said. “If those people [Indigenous staff] leave, a big portion of the support for Indigenous students goes with them and the relationship they had.”

Langara Indigenous carving instructor Aaron Nelson-Moody, also known as Splash, a name derived from his Squamish name, Tawx’sin Yexwulla, meaning Splashing Eagle, works part time as an instructor for four different colleges, but focuses his work within the Squamish Nation.

Nelson-Moody said Indigenous staff can get a lot of good job offers. “There’s way more demand [for Indigenous staff] than there are people to fill the positions,” said Nelson-Moody.

But he added that a college “can still be a bit of a colonial institution,” and can be an awkward fit for Indigenous people. “It’s not the first way we would like to teach. We would like to teach more in our own cultural approach, and this is not our cultural approach, so we have to adjust.”

More support needed

Nelson-Moody said one of his biggest challenges as an instructor is a lack of resources. “I’m having to invent things from scratch, very primary research. I’m talking to other carvers, how to teach carving I’m having to write my own resources, I’m having to write my own rubrics for grading the class.”

Young wants students to be more understanding of generational trauma. “Like residential schools, people think it happened a long time ago, but my grandparents went to it.”

He said that this trauma can “trickle down the generation … it’s not as impactful as the first generation that went … but the issues are still real and the trauma’s still there.”

College learns from new name

Nelson-Moody said he liked how the college dealt with receiving its Musqueam name, snəw̓ eyəɬ leləm̓ [snuh-way-uh-th-huh-leh-lum].

“They wrestled with how to carry that name. What does that mean? Was it just a gift or is it a responsibility? You know, is it just a gesture or are they now connected to community? And they really tried to study it,” he said. “And they’re still wrestling with, which I like. I like that they don’t think they know exactly what that means yet.”

Langara Indigenous carving instructor Aaron Nelson-Moody concerns that the college’s Indigenous culture is not yet fully realized.

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