Student stories

Connecting with Indigenous communities through a work term at Mary’s Farm and Sanctuary

Nicole Mandryk

Mary's Farm and Sanctuary

This past summer, Nicole Mandryk saw her learning come to life when she spent four months as a summer camp assistant with Mary’s Farm and Sanctuary near Goldstream Park. The psychology and Indigenous studies student dove into her role with her heart open, and found inspiration in the people she met along the way.

Mandryk, who is Irish, English Ukrainian, Anishinaabe and Mowak, was hired to engage with local Aboriginal communities through a range of summer programs offered at the 30-acre farm, including nature-based counseling, equine-facilitated wellness workshops, drumming events, youth camps and more. Mandryk was instrumental in promoting these opportunities to the Esquimalt, Tsartlip and Paquichan nations, as well as helping to run the programs and connecting with local Indigenous teachers. Spending time with Aboriginal community members who attended the programs had a deep impact on Mandryk, as she was able to put her counseling skills into action.

“In my counseling class we talk a lot about how to provide support through active listening, being non judgmental, and by developing relationships,” says Mandryk. “While I appreciate learning theory, I found the experiential nature of co-op deeply moving. I loved sitting and listening to folks, and hearing their stories and life experiences—it was an honour to witness their transformations.”

Mandryk, who identifies as queer, has experienced her own transformation over the course of her educational journey. Born and raised on the traditional territory of the Lkwungen speaking people, she found the idea of university overwhelming and originally found a better fit in college. “That time of my life was difficult, and a close friend encouraged me to seek out counseling for guidance,” she says. “It was through my own process of healing that I found a connection and desire to enter the counseling realm as a way to give back to the community and help folks come into their own sense of selves.”

The opportunity to work with the team at Mary’s Farm seemed like the perfect blend of counseling and outreach, and it also gave her the opportunity to connect more closely to local Aboriginal communities. “Growing up, I knew very little about those whose traditional lands I walked on. In my own process of decolonizing, I think it’s vital to rebuild positive healthy relationships with Lkwungen, Esquimalt and WSANEC peoples. The farm was a positive space for this relationship building to begin.”

Mary Rostad, of the Haisla Nation, is the owner of Mary’s Farm and Sanctuary. She has welcomed several co-op students over the years, and has seen the positive impact these students have made and experienced.

“Nicole’s experience at the farm has allowed her to grow and learn from a real-world perspective,” says Rostad. “She embraced every opportunity to learn – for example, through a Heiltsuk woman connected to the farm, Nicole took an opportunity to volunteer with displaced aboriginal IV drug users, giving her some exposure to different issues faced by first nations people. This same woman taught Nicole how to pull cedar bark and process it for weaving. I’ve been impressed with the way Nicole has taken all her education and begun to use it in a practical, person-centred way.”

Mandryk has already built on some of the relationships she developed during her time at Mary’s Farm. After connecting with the Victoria Native Friendship Centre through the summer camps, she has been hired as the Tribal Journeys Coordinator for a co-op work term with the organization this fall. 

“I’m unsure of what my career path looks like, but co-op has given me the opportunity to explore different avenues that are meaningful to the community and myself,” she says. “I want to continue centering marginalized voices and creating space for new ways of being and seeing the world.”

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