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FORT ST. JOHN, B.C. – A pair of First Nation Elders believe Northern Lights College’s initiative to integrate Indigenous knowledge in its curriculum is another positive step for First Nation communities. 

NLC’s Elders in Residence program officially launched in October 2022. The program is described as a way to create “a pathway for Elders to share their knowledge with students, staff, and faculty through conversations, storytelling, and classroom visits.” 

Some Elders involved in the program are Gerry Attachie, David Rattray, Clarence Apsassin, Malcolm Supernault, Bernadette Cardinal, and Vera Nicholson.

Apsassin, a former Treaty 8 Tribal Chief and a Blueberry River First Nation member, feels that “the program offers a chance to reveal their true selves.”

Apsassin is also a residential school survivor who shared his story with NLC students last week. He said delving into his “horror story” was the most challenging experience in his lifetime.

But for Apsassin, forgiving colonizers and their wrongdoings are very important for the First Nations community. 

“Through forgiveness, we can be free,” said Apsassin. “For us, forgiving the colonizers signifies strength as a community.”

In her article Integrating Indigenous Knowledge, Aleisha Hendry, with the college, describes the role of Helen Knott, director of Indigenous Education at NLC, and her experience at Nicola Valley Institute (NVIT) in Merritt, particularly engaging with the Elders. Knott said the experience lifted her spirits while feeling homesick.

According to Hendry, Knott’s passion and commitment to creating spaces for Indigenous learning were vital to starting the Elder’s program at NLC.

Knott relayed that educational institutions historically played a role in assimilation, and they must do the current work to uphold Indigenous knowledge and histories – this program is a small step in the right direction.

Education is crucial, and translating history to future generations is the goal for Elders, said Apsassin.  

Former chief and councillor of a Doig River First Nation Gerry Attachie believes recreating Dane-zaa stories of the past is crucial to their community.

Attachie said the experience at NLC is quite an adventure because he also learns different cultural knowledge from students worldwide.

For Apsassin, language is a person’s identity, and he encouraged students to speak and preserve their native languages.

“Language guides us through our difficult periods in life.”

A local Indigenous Elder will join the college monthly for a week of events between the Fort St. John and Dawson Creek campuses through the program. These events include speaking to classrooms, educational webinars, conversation circles, and tea and bannock socials.  

Knott hopes to continually run this program to honour Indigenous knowledge and to create a welcoming space for Elders in the post-secondary environment that will allow them to connect with NLC Learners and staff.  

Featured photo: From right to left, NLC’s Indigenous Student Navigator Denise Stager and Clarence Apsassin.

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Manavpreet Singh, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

My name is Manavpreet Singh, and I was born and raised in Panjab. I came to Canada as an International student and studied at SFU. I learned the discourse on media and how it is not merely a tool for news but a powerful technology where reason triumphs the passion. My passion is reading philosophical texts, and I am particularly interested in understanding technology and its impact on colonialism. I will be covering stories coming out of Indigenous communities and trying to explore their language...