Two networks that provide support to Indigenous guardians on BC’s coast, the Coastal Stewardship Network and the Ha-ma-yas Stewardship Network, partnered with the Office of Aboriginal Education at Vancouver Island University (VIU) to develop a custom, vocational training program designed specifically for Indigenous guardians.
The training program blends cultural awareness and leadership courses with industry certified technical courses in environmental monitoring and archeological inventory, as well as university credit courses on compliance communications and park administration.
Hilistis Pauline Waterfall, a Heiltsuk Elder, educator and instructor for the Cultural Awareness and Leadership courses, describes the program.
“Participants are reinforcing their Indigenous cultural awareness, leadership, respect and self-governance as well as getting technical training,” she says. “We are growing and evolving collaborative as well as equal partnerships in this endeavour. It is this collaborative way of learning and growing that is a best practice to model in the spirit of reconciliation today.”
Offering cultural awareness courses is important, as is incorporating cultural protocols, practices, and teachings as part of the learning process. It strengthens a strong sense of First Nations identity, place, and pride.
Elodie Button, Training Coordinator for the Coastal Stewardship Network, adds, “A key success factor has been to provide opportunities that foster peer-to-peer support and leadership throughout the program. These relationships resulted in strong family bonds that led to all the participants successfully completing the two-year program.”
Other success factors were:
University and industry accreditations for participants.
In-class supports for participants.
Modular courses delivered in or close to communities.
Schedules that meet the needs of seasonal timing and that minimize the time spent away from family and community responsibilities.
Sheila Cooper, Indigenous Community Engagement Coordinator at VIU, shares her advice for others planning Guardian Watchman training programs.
“Try and get development funding early on to use to design the program and curriculum,” she says. “It will go a long way to bringing cultural knowledge and content strongly into each course topic. It also ensures that instructors have the time to do their own learning to better understand how to teach Indigenous students.”