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Transformative Impact: Indigenous Elders at UVic

Jasdeep Randhawa presents a territorial acknowledgement in the First Peoples House

There's a transformative force at work in the classrooms, field schools, ceremonies and events at the University of Victoria right now. It’s something that Jasdeep Randhawa (BA’14), a donor and devoted UVic employee for over 12 years, holds close to her heart. It’s called the Elders Engagement program. This program integrates Indigenous ways of knowing into the educational experience for students, staff and faculty across the university.

In giving to the ITOTELNEW̱TEL ȽTE: LEARNING FROM ONE ANOTHER fund, donors are helping to expand this program and increase opportunities for all members of the UVic community to learn from and engage with the Elders. Elders share their teachings with students in classrooms and immersive outdoor learning experiences, such as beach harvesting or guided tours to significant cultural sites. This fosters critical thinking and respect for intergenerational knowledge for students. For Indigenous students, it builds a deeper connection between their culture and education.

In her role as the Equity, Diversity, Inclusion and Decolonization (EDID+) coordinator in the Faculty of Education, Jasdeep emphasizes the importance of supporting Indigenous cultures. "[Elders] carry with them this ancestral knowledge that people have tried really hard to eradicate,” Jasdeep says. “And it gives me a sense of pride as well, in the sense that Indigenous cultures flourish; and continue to thrive in the present day."

Jasdeep feels the presence of Indigenous Elders at UVic has caused a recognizable difference since her days as an undergraduate student. Sharing their special gifts at events—their blessings, songs and prayers—have left an indelible mark on her and many others. "There’s something about hearing Indigenous Elders share their words and thoughts that’s incredibly healing,” she says. The wisdom Elders have shared with her resonates deeply.

"When I get wrapped up in my experience and the feelings that come with trying to exist in this colonial space, even hearing an Elder say ‘we've come a long way’, brings me back. When I move on these lands with a good heart and good mind, I remember Dr. Skip Dick’s words, You have a responsibility to take care, to be living as a community, to not lose what it means to be a human being with other human beings.”

Through this healing, Jasdeep experienced a personal call to action. "When I see our Elders come to events and bless us and welcome us and even heal us through song and prayer, I want to do more.” 

Several years ago, when reflecting on her own journey and time at UVic, Jasdeep, asked herself: "As a settler woman of colour, how can I answer what’s needed here? ...on this campus? How can I be part of positive change?" For her, the answer lies in supporting Indigenous students, a need that she says has been a constant driving force during her studies and career. Today, it drives her monthly gifts to the ITOTELNEW̱TEL ȽTE: LEARNING FROM ONE ANOTHER fund.

“Dancing with [Elder] teachings has been healing. If lack of funding is going to prevent anyone from being able to access such teachings, I want to be a part of removing that barrier.”

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