JIBC staff and faculty gain lifelong learning opportunities working with Aboriginal students

2016 NAD CollageAn Aboriginal hoop dancer performs at National Aboriginal Day celebrations held at the Justice Institute of British Columbia recently. JIBC staff and faculty marked the occasion by recounting personal and professional lessons they learned from working with Aboriginal students and communities. (Photos by Richard Chu / Story by Wanda Chow)


When it comes to working with Aboriginal students and communities, staff and faculty at Justice Institute of British Columbia (JIBC) find the lessons go both ways.

That was the common theme among speakers at this year’s National Aboriginal Day event held June 21 in JIBC’s recently-opened Aboriginal Gathering Place at the New Westminster Campus.

“National Aboriginal Day is always a special occasion at JIBC,” said Dr. Jeffrey Schiffer, Director of the Office of Indigenization. “This year, we decided it was a great opportunity to share some of the ways the education we’re providing is helping to build capacity within Aboriginal communities, and strengthen relationships in the spirit of truth and reconciliation.”

Bridget Malcom, JIBC’s Aboriginal Student Recruiter & Advisor, shared her story of how her work at the Institute has put her in touch with her own Aboriginal heritage. Growing up, she lived with her father in New Westminster, with little awareness of her mother’s Aboriginal culture. After working at JIBC planning events and ceremonies with local First Nations and their Elders as part of her role, Malcom said there’s been no shortage of opportunities to learn more about her Aboriginal roots. She notes that exposure to her cultural heritage has only enhanced her work and commitment to assist JIBC Aboriginal learners.

I am so grateful for all of the opportunities that have been presented to me as a staff member at JIBC,” she said. “I didn’t realize how much of a learner I would become once I stepped into my role.” 

 JIBC has made it a strategic priority to work with government and community partners to bring its courses to First Nations communities around the province. For example, with generous financial support from the RBC Foundation, JIBC developed the Fundamentals of Emergency Medical Responder program in 2012 and delivered this course to over 130 students in rural, remote communities. The majority of its students hail from First Nations communities across BC and many graduates have gone on to continue their education, further increasing first responder capabilities in their home communities.

“Support from the RBC Foundation allowed us to go out and do what we do best, which is recruit students and gear them up for success so they can deliver health services in their community and it’s just such a blessing to have that situation,” said Jodie Marshall, program manager for JIBC’s Health Sciences Division.

Perry Deol, a program manager in JIBC’s Corrections & Court Services Division, has valued the opportunity to connect on a more personal level with Aboriginal students and community members he has helped support.

“It’s not what you are, it’s what you stand for, it’s who you are, it’s your connection to your people, it’s your connection to the community,” he said. “Otherwise you’re just a resume on a piece of paper and sometimes that’s not enough.”

 Deol described a heart-wrenching lesson from an Aboriginal woman in her 60s who was a student in one of his classes. The students were giving presentations and receiving feedback. At one point, Deol noticed the woman was looking sad, tears welling up in her eyes. He asked if she was OK. She responded that she didn’t know whether to trust him, as the teacher. She spoke of being raised in residential schools and hinted at being abused. And she told him he was the first man in an educational setting who gave her positive feedback without wanting something.

“I knew what she meant by that,” Deol told the audience. “You can read all you want about history, you can educate yourselves on residential schools, but when you speak with someone who has experienced it, it will completely open your eyes how powerful those experiences were in shaping their lives.”

 It’s just that understanding that Linda Stewart tries to instill in the police recruits she works with. An instructor in the JIBC Police Academy and herself a 35-year veteran of the Vancouver Police Department, Stewart said most of the recruits she works with haven’t heard of Indian residential schools, how 150,000 were taken from their homes and families, and how there are 80,000 survivors still with us today.

She makes sure they know about it before they leave JIBC to promote a better understanding of Aboriginal communities.

“I can tell you, my recruits are surprised when they hear this, when they hear about how these people were treated in residential school because it’s a shock and they have no idea,” Stewart said. “And when you consider the last residential school to close in this country was in 1996, 1984 in Mission, that’s not that long ago so you cannot forget those stories. We cannot let this message go unheard.”


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