Student stories

Experiential learning connects UVic student with Indigenous heritage

Richel Donaldson

Esquimalt Nation

For political science and Indigenous studies student Richel Donaldson, classroom learning and co-op work experience has helped her connect with her family roots. When Richel, who is Tsimshian, English and Scottish, arrived at UVic she was excited to discover the Indigenous Studies minor. “By learning about Indigenous methodology and thought, I was able to connect with my heritage and community,” she says.

Richel also knew she wanted to graduate with experience in her field, so she joined the Political Science Co-op Program. She was able to combine her desire for relevant experience with an exploration of her roots through a co-op position as a child and youth care coordinator with the Esquimalt Nation. The position is supported by funding from BC’s Aboriginal Service Plan, an initiative to partner Indigenous students with culturally and academically relevant experience in Indigenous communities.

In her role, Richel plans and secures funding for various youth programs through research and grant writing, and contributes to day-to-day life in the community, including driving kids to golf practice and helping in the Big House – and she loves it all. “My favourite part about my job is working with the youth and watching them grow as people,” she says. “Esquimalt Nation is an amazing community, with lots of inspiring kids and powerful leaders. I am honoured to have been part of their development.”

Working hands-on with an Indigenous community has been a great learning experience for Richel and compliments both of her study programs. “I can actually see how the theories that I have learned in class manifest in reality – what land displacement looks like, how colonialism and white privilege have marginalized Indigenous people, what survivance and resistance actually look like,” she says. Richel has seen the impact of policy on people’s lives and the challenges that Indigenous people still face in the Canadian system – a perspective that Richel plans to take back in to the classroom and apply to future research.

Throughout this work term, Richel’s main goal has been to create a positive and beneficial relationship with the Esquimalt Nation community. She is grateful for the opportunity to contribute to their community and in exchange, she wants to provide the youth in her programs with an excellent summer. Richel is also making an impact in her personal community. Because of this co-op position, Richel feels more comfortable talking with non-Indigenous friends and family about Indigenous issues, addressing stereotypes and clarifying misconceptions. “If I can change one person’s perception about Indigenous peoples and communities and inform them that Indigenous people are strong, knowledgeable and vibrant, I will be happy.”

Overall, this work term has reinforced Richel’s goal of working in Indigenous communities. “I love how connected I feel to the people in the Esquimalt nation, and I feel like I am able to bring valuable knowledge to them,” she says. “This connection is very important to me when considering a job – I want to be able to make a positive difference in a community.” For Richel, making a helpful impact can mean any number of things. “I think the most satisfying job I could have is simply doing what the community needs – whatever that might be.”

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