Episode 6 - Community Campuses
This episode delves into the role of the community campuses through the stories and the work of three campus liaisons: Nicole Tom in Carmacks, Ingrid Johnson in Teslin, and Ashley Doiron in Dawson. We’ll also hear from John Reid who has worked at the Mayo campus for 30 years and is now the department head of northern campuses.
Welcome to Walking our Path Together, a series of audio stories exploring Yukon College’s reconciliation journey.
Over the course of the series, we’ll hear from people who are connected with the College, and from people throughout the Yukon – Elders, educators, community leaders, and youth.
This is Episode 6.
Yukon College is made up of 13 campuses, located throughout the Yukon — in Whitehorse and in 11 Yukon communities.
In this story we’ll visit three of those campuses to speak with the Community Liaisons that work there. And we’ll hear from John Reid, the Chair of Northern Campuses, who works out of the Mayo Campus.
First we’ll head to Camacks – a community of about 500 and the home of the Little Salmon Carmacks First Nation – to speak with Nicole Tom, who works at the campus as the Community Liaison and is also a student in the Indigenous Governance Degree program at Yukon College.
Nicole Tom: My name is Nicole Tom and I’m the community liaison in Carmacks. I’m also a student in the Indigenous Governance Bachelor Degree. I am responsible for being the eyes and the ears of the community, so to speak. I attend interagency meetings and really work with the Village of Carmacks and the Little Salmon Carmacks and any other community niches that I can find to get people together.
I work on programming they would like to see and/or what classes and courses they would like to attend. I also do recruitment for courses and classes to kind of know who’s done what and who would be good to foster through the process of getting an education. So really finding those key people and setting them up for success. I’m responsible for asking them how and where they’re at in their process of education. We’ll do fun things like we’ll have a drum making course which I will put on, and every Wednesday when there’s a program going on I’ll have a lunch for the students. Every Monday when they come in, we’ll have check-in and a talking circle just to see where they’re at and how it’s going.
It’s really interesting because when we do stuff like that, I can really relate to them in where they’re at and give them ... I’ve been in school for about three years now, so I have some tips and some techniques. I also outreach to a lot of the support that we have in the community, so I kind of have that all in one place so that if a student is having some barriers we can try to help maneuver through them with the support that’s available in Carmacks.
Originally, my children were learning a different First Nation language. I know that our First Nation language is endangered. So that was the original intent, was to come back and make sure that my children know their language through the school curriculum and also know their culture. So that’s what drove me back to the come, as well as I love the land. I used to come to Carmacks every summer for two months. We would go out to McGregor Creek, and that’s where our cabin was. And I miss that as an adult. So, coming back to Carmacks was also part of reconnection to the land for me.
I decided to start studying when I was working for Ed Schultz at Little Salmon Carmacks. I was his executive assistant. We were looking at some training, which it was a training position. We found the Public Admin and First Nation certificate. I had started with one course of that and wasn’t really sure. Then, I got pregnant and I was at home. I wanted to further my education because I didn’t want to be bored at home. I needed to use the brain. I knew that I could take the Indigenous Governance and Public Admin certificate through online courses. That’s how it started. Then it just moved into the degree and I’m still at it. We call Katana ‘the governance baby’ because she’s been in my governance classes since she was six months old and she’s now four. It’s really cool, yep.
It’s interesting because there’s different generations who need different things. The current generations that are coming up adapt really well to online courses and Moodle. That’s really interesting. I think that we’ll see a boom in it. I think that they’re much more accepting. It just passes through. We have some generations that literacy may be a component of what’s necessary in the communities. Then, we also have generations who have postsecondary and they’re looking for something more. They’re looking for degrees, which is exciting that the Yukon College is now offering those and offering them online. And then we have generations who are elders or who are older, and they want some computer training and some governance training. A lot of the community is interested in the actual documents and agreements. We’re seeing that being of interest.
The major barrier that I see is upgrading. A lot of the people need Math 10, English 10, and Science 10. We only offering the upgrading online, which works well for some generations. But I have a feeling that as more people are successful in these things and they hear about them, that they’re going to adapt. It just takes some time. It is frustrating to be online sometimes, because like the other day it snowed and rained and hailed and there was no internet. Two days ago, I think the fiber optic line got cut outside of Carmacks, there’s no internet. So, you just have to ... You have to roll with it. That’s something that you learn. And also know that your instructors understand that too. A lot of online instructors just know. So, you’re not going to be penalized for it, which is ... I think becomes stressful and then you’re like, "When am I going to watch the class?" And now you have to rearrange your schedule.
When learning from a community, I think we’re lucky to have those options, because if we didn’t, what would we do? The education would be completely lacking and gone. We would have to go into Whitehorse. Barrier, that’s the biggest barrier that I see, is that it would be nice to see a real big push in people willing and wanting. Because they can take any program after they get those math, English, and sciences, and understanding that they don’t need to graduate any more to get a postsecondary education, that they could do the upgrading.
My family’s here. I can go out on the land when school is driving me nuts. I can run away to my cabins and I’m close. Also, that in the Indigenous Governance degree, particularly, I have my mentors and my elders, and my knowledge keepers are in the community. I can walk over and ask for a document that is in our archives. I don’t have to drive or go anywhere. I can walk over and I can ask the negotiators who were signing the final agreements the questions that I need to know. I have direct contact with them. And also my assignments can be geared around the community or what I identify that the community may be needing. That makes a big difference for me.
I’m pretty lucky that they kind of coincide. I’m pretty lucky that I have this position as well as being a student, because when they’re freaking out about the internet I can go help. I can just go help with Moodle. I know the IT help desk. I know exactly what we need to do to get it done. Also, yeah, like I said, I have an understanding of the barriers that happen. It’s not easy. Life isn’t easy in general. Life isn’t easy in a community. We do have social issues that we’re all dealing with. We all have this legacy of colonization. We have the legacy of residential schools.
We have so much on our shoulders that it’s good to, I think, just relate and put yourself into their shoes and just encourage and let them know that it can happen. And also let them ... I’ve failed. I’ve come in freaking out and crying. I was like, "I don’t know how to do it." Right? First semester, being not in school for 10 years. It’s okay. You can take it again. Yeah, it costs more money but you need to chill out. You could take it again. There’s room for adjustments and there’s room for learning.
When I started I didn’t even know what a syllabus was at first. Now the syllabus is my most important piece of paper at the beginning of the semester. I can help people with that. I can tell them and I can guide them. Even with writing papers, I can help them and relate and get your thesis and your everything together so that you have an outline. Yeah, I have strong understanding of what it’s like to be a student. And then, yeah, it worked well with being a liaison, because they have that extra boost of support.
Next, we’ll head further up the Klondike Highway to speak with the new community liaison at the Dawson City Campus, Ashley Doiron. Dawson is home to the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in.
Ashley Doiron: My name is Ashley Dorion and I’m working at the Yukon College Dawson Campus as the Community Campus Liaison and Continuing Education Coordinator. Before working in this role, I worked for Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in Education for about six years. Well, I’m just starting in my role and so I’m getting used to what it means but it’s ... One part of my position involves organizing and coordinating the continuing education programs and courses for the campus. The other part of my role is serving as the community liaison and this involves a lot of providing student support and working with the First Nation to provide that support for adults who are seeking training and to be successful in the education programs that the College is offering.
And student in the community who’s looking for some support or it could be students who are already enrolled at the college that might be having some kinds of challenges. There could be a variety of things that might provide challenges for students. Things like making the decision to come back to school, not necessarily being 100% aware of what that involves. Workload, people who are working and going to school at the same time, so having to manage different responsibilities. People who might have children, especially young children, working with daycares or other service providers in the community to support them in their lifestyle.
So, student who might be trying to achieve balance in their life between education and the many different things that might be going on for them. A lot of it has to do with outreaching to the community. So, providing that student support but reaching out as well to get students into the programs and courses and establishing that solid relationship with the First Nation and being available for First Nation’s students, having those connections, making those connections. Yeah. And I think there’s an element of case management that is developing in this role as well.
There’s not one world view out there. It’s interesting to realize that, so have that aha moment. You know, growing up, we only know what we’re familiar with and unless we seek an opportunity to see things differently we don’t ever have that kind of experience. Working for Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in, it was a very immersive experience for me. I mean, I live in a community that’s very integrated and we live together with the First Nation here and all of their cultural experiences are constantly open to us that aren’t from that culture.
But it’s very different to work for the First Nation and be constantly having to look at what you’re doing from a different perspective. That really immersive experience of having to put yourself in somebody else’s ... As somebody who worked for the First Nation, it’s critical that I have been able to understand that world view in order to accomplish work that needs to be done around the self-governing agreement. In that way I’m so grateful that elders devoted so much time with me and that I was, I had the opportunity to have the experiences that I did, participating in things like First Nation Education Commission.
I mean, those kinds of experiences and summits around First Nation education, there’s so much learning that happens there and you’re just constantly surrounded by First Nation people who are sharing stories and really helping us to see things in a different way. Those really in-depth kind of experiences were the most valuable.
Next, we’re heading back down the highway to Teslin and the home of the Teslin Tlingit Council to speak with Ingrid Johnson. Ingrid is the Community Liaison and also the unofficial Elder on Campus in Teslin.
Ingrid Johnson: My name is Ingrid Johnson and I am Inland Tlingit from Teslin. This is my hometown where I live and I’m a member of the Kùkhhittàn Clan, which is a raven clan, and so that is when you are a member of a clan, this is what you get from your mother. So, my mother was Kùkhhittàn and her mother was Kùkhhittàn, and so on. So, both of my sons are Kùkhhittàn as well, on the raven side. And that’s really an important thing for Tlingit people.
I hope students do feel welcome. It’s really tough to be from the community and go to White Horse and rent a house and get daycare and all that. It’s really tough. It’s really scary when you’re in that position where you’re living there, you don’t know how to get around or even get through traffic or maybe you don’t even have a car.
Maybe you’re not able to get daycare at the college. I don’t know. Maybe you’re always worrying about your funding and all those kinds of things. So it’s tough. It’s tough. It will take time, I think, but I think people really welcome the opportunity to be able to do things right in the community. When I was growing up, there was no university, even in the territory. No college. You had to go far away. Imagine if I had to go to Vancouver, then.
I was lucky because when I went to university, I’d worked for many years. I knew how to handle a budget and how to rent stuff. How to rent myself a home and all the things that you need to do. I was an adult, but I think it’s really hard for younger ones just starting out. Well, I’m sure you know.
Sometimes I just think about like if I had to go to another country, understand and know the culture then to teach in that and to teach the history and stuff, you would really, really need a lot of support. You would need a lot of mentoring to be able to do that. I really feel for a lot of our instructors that come in and they’re expected to work with a lot of this history and they need help.
They’re looking for help, they’re looking for support. I think a lot of our history is very, very emotional. It’s very difficult to work with. People really need to talk about some of the issues that they faced in their life. And education is a hot button. The history of education in the Yukon has not been a pretty one and this is still within living memory.
So, I think a lot of times is just being aware of what some of those issues are and understanding and empathizing. I know that whenever we’re in gatherings, even when learned gatherings here in our own community, there needs to be that space for people to be able to talk about some things still. And once we do that then perhaps we’re able to step ahead and to sort of get ourselves, I guess, in focus and to realize this is the ground that we stand on and here’s where we go from here.
I really like to see that we have many elders coming in to the college and talking about these things and providing just that support, not knowledge. Sometimes it’s really scary to be an indigenous person. It really is. Even whether it’s in the Yukon or whether it’s in an institution like the college or anywhere that you go. Just for them to know sometimes that, wow, here’s an elder who has seen and done and been through so much of the history that we talk about and has survived and has done well and continues to be intact and wise and loving.
It’s really cool that we have those people in place now. I think that’s really important. It’s probably one of the best things we do, I think.
John Reid is the Chair of Northern Campuses at Yukon College.
John Reid: My name is John Reid. I’m Coast Salish. I’m from Vancouver Island. My Indian name is [First Nation Language] and my nephew thinks that’s funny because it rhymes with [First Nation Language], which is your belly button. [First Nation Language] is the stick, the pole that pushes the raft and the canoe through the water, so I find myself doing that a lot. My dad is Gordon Reid, he’s a residential school survivor from Kuper Island Residential School and my mom is Ann Reid, she’s Scottish by ancestry, Scottish/English ancestry.
I was the Instructor Coordinator at the Mayo Campus for 25 years, off and on, I took a couple of breaks in that, and so I ran the campus there for twenty some odd years. I’m now the North Region Department Head, so I’m keeping an eye on everything essentially north of Whitehorse that you can drive to and I support the campuses and support the people on the campuses and make sure programming gets offered and meets the needs of communities.
One of the things we try to do is make sure that the programming we offer is meeting the needs of communities and there’s a couple of variables in that. One is that there’s always a lot of needs within communities and that those needs vary. The needs vary from literally from month to month and from year to year, and so we try to be very conscious of what we can do as opposed to just trying to do everything.
In certain communities, maybe the priorities are health and wellness and so we try to find programming that meets the health and wellness needs. Other communities might have an industrial mandate because there’s a mine opening. Or maybe both in some communities, so we always try to focus on getting a dialogue going with the communities about what their needs are and then building programming that meets that.
It’s a moving target. What you need is one year may not be the need the next year. You might go into the spring time planning time frame with one idea and by the fall everything is off the table and the whole thing has changed. There’s a constant ongoing keeping an eye on making sure that not only you’re offering what the community needs, but that there is a quality behind it and that you’re meeting students’ needs at the same time as community needs. There’s always lots going on.
It actually goes back to some of the basics of democracy and western civilization. People need to be free. They need to have opportunity in order to be free. If your only option is welfare or the job that’s posted on the wall, then you really have no opportunity in life so how do we create an environment that individuals can feel free to take on or to dream or to hope or to imagine a new life and how do you do that? The way to do that is through education.
If you see a job advertisement to be a carpenter and you really have no pathway to be that carpenter, that’s not freedom and that’s not democracy and that’s not where we want to be, right? You want to be able to walk down that road and have the opportunity to walk down that road that anybody anywhere else living in any other community in Canada can do, and that’s really the opportunity that we provide in the Yukon, the capacity to do that.
Maybe you want to finish high school, we provide that opportunity. Maybe you want to be a carpenter, we provide that opportunity. Maybe you want to work in the office admin, we provide that opportunity. Maybe you want to get a degree, we provide that opportunity too. It’s very unique in that sense and so maintaining those campuses, maintaining how our campuses and how our communities ... It really comes down to one of those fundamental freedoms of opportunity and finding your way in life and moving ahead in life.
If you’re in your mid-30s and you’ve got three kids, you’re not leaving town to go get your office admin. Even if you had the money, there’s too much of a family responsibility, a house, a home, you’re just not doing that. Now you don’t have to leave. If you’re twenty years old and you have anxieties about living in a big city, you don’t have to anymore. You can stay in that town and take that training.
It gives them access and opportunity that just wasn’t there before. If you’re thirty-six and you don’t have opportunity, where are you going? What are you doing? Right? Because there’s a limited number of opportunities in small Yukon communities but now there’s an opening to a door, right? There’s a door you can walk through, which leads to a job you couldn’t have done before, which leads to more money in the household, which leads to more security in the household, which leads to a happier household, which leads to a better quality of life, and that’s what the education system is for.
Yukon College is unique. There may be one or two other examples in northern Alberta, maybe northern Manitoba, that are similar but it’s very unique in the approach of having campuses in as many communities as we do and in as many small communities as we do. I continue to feel that this is still a social experiment. Does this or does this not work? Maybe that’s too simple of a question. Maybe the question is when does this work and when does it not work? Or how does it work or how does it not work? Because there are many times and examples where you can identify that it worked but there’s quite a number where you can identify that didn’t work.
You can point to individuals where you go that’s been a real success story and you look at the time and effort that’s gone into making that. There are so many factors involved that it ... And I’m not saying we’re not successful, I’m saying how do you make it successful every time? That’s the challenge.
We are humbled and grateful to the knowledgeable Yukoners who took their time to be a part of this project, and to help tell this story.
This audio story was produced by Leighann Chalykoff for Yukon College.
Original music is by Jona Barr.
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