Role models give aboriginal youth goals to aim for

NANAIMO – Role models related to improvement in graduation rate among aboriginal youth.

The Snuneymuxw flag becoming a permanent fixture on Nanaimo City Hall Sunday was symbolic of a positive relationship that is being built in the community.

The graduation rate among aboriginal students is at an all-time high at 64 per cent in 2013-14 and First Nations are represented on Nanaimo city council, the school board, the Greater Nanaimo Chamber of Commerce and the Regional District of Nanaimo, giving role models for youth.

In fact, according to Chris Beaton, Nanaimo Aboriginal Centre executive director, role models are related to the graduation rate increase.

“When you talk about youth and how they’re moving forward from the residential school legacy, is that they are beginning to see their brothers, their sisters, their cousins, their aunties, their uncles being successful in education, working more in mainstream society.

“They’re seeing role models from their own community and I think that’s helping them move forward as well,” said Beaton.

Erralyn Thomas, Snuneymuxw band councillor, said role models are very important to aboriginal youth. She said there are two ways of living in the world: “mainstream” and “Indian country.”

“In Indian country, the way we learn in our culture is very hands on. Each family has a role and each individual in the family has a role within the family. It’s very hands on, it’s very mentorship-style, so it is the way of learning at home,” said Thomas.

She said you have to follow someone that’s been there already and people can extrapolate that way of learning into the education system or the workplace. It’s a transferable skill and helps people succeed.

Thomas understands why people may look up to her, being an elected official with a law degree from the University of British Columbia, but doesn’t see herself as a role model.

“Having that time in a career for somebody to look at and say, ‘I want to be there,’ I think I’m just getting started,” said Thomas.