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Snuneymuxw elder shares traditional knowledge

NANAIMO – Geraldine Manson supports Vancouver Island University students
Geraldine Manson is the first full-time elder in residence at VIU. She is shown by Shq’apthut

By Shari Bishop Bowes

The first full-time elder-in-residence at Vancouver Island University provides guidance and support to aboriginal and non-aboriginal students, and will now share traditional knowledge and practices in the Faculty of Health and Human Services.

Geraldine Manson, of Snuneymuxw First Nation, who has worked in the elder role with VIU for the past six years, was appointed as the first elder-in-residence for health services for the current academic year.

Manson has spent the past 17 years as the elder coordinator for her community. While expanding her role to work with health services students and faculty, and assisting with curriculum development, Manson will continue her position at Shq’apthut, the Aboriginal Gathering Place, providing support and guidance to faculty, staff and students at VIU.

A key part of Manson’s role will be to help move aboriginal knowledge further into the existing curriculum.

“Any student, no matter who they are, and which health care program they’re in, will learn about aboriginal perspectives,” said Carol Stuart, dean of health services. “Elders will be coming into the classroom to talk about their beliefs and practices related to the curriculum.”

Manson’s work as an elder for her community, and part-time at VIU for the past eight years, has its roots in her experiences as a child in B.C.’s residential school system, followed by a turbulent young life in seven different foster homes before returning home to her community as a young woman.

Her first cultural teachings came from her beloved mother-in-law, Emily Manson, with whom she lived first at age 15 while still in foster care and as a young mother after meeting her husband of 47 years, Earl Manson. Learning from her mother-in-law about her culture and language, along with the skills she would need to support a home and family, inspired Manson to pursue education at the then Malaspina College.

It was the elders from Snuneymeuxw who urged her to use her skills and compassion to train as a ‘pre-elder’, rather than continuing to train and work directly in health care.

“They said, ‘We need you here, to continue to learn the language, the land, the history, and be our legs and our eyes when we can no longer do so,” Manson says.

Through her work, Manson met former VIU elder-in-residence Ellen White.

“She was the one who continued my training when the elders were no more,” she said.  “Auntie Ellen was the first elder-in-residence at VIU, and she is my mentor and advisor.”

Today, with a full and busy life including three children, eight grandchildren, and one great grandchild, Manson can be found welcoming faculty to a regular gathering, counselling a student at Shq’apthut, or working with new students. She shares her wisdom where it’s required, and “if I can’t offer it, I will bring in other traditional knowledge keepers.”