Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
There is a glow to Julie Hanuse, education coordinator for Klahoose First Nation in the Salish Sea, located between Vancouver Island and the mainland. She has a warmth and strength that has kept her going in her role for 31 years.
She is also an ʔayʔaǰuθəm (pronounced ayajuthem) language teacher, and has held the title of Indigenous education youth worker at Cortes Island School for 20 of those years.
“Julie always makes students feel supported,” said Chief Steven Brown. “She's this really kind, patient person who wants our members to succeed.”
Hanuse wears a few hats, also providing tutoring in the community and managing post-secondary education.
“So she gets to interact with all of her members from the elementary students all the way to the post-secondary graduates,” said Brown. “I think the beauty is that she's been able to build relationships when people are young and keep them until their adult lives, and I don't know another position or person that's able to do that.”
Hanuse points to the beach at Klahoose and remembers spending days eating green apples there and admiring multicoloured baby wolf eels, brick red and bright orange with purple highlights. Where roads and street lights are today, she remembers a narrow hard packed foot trail, so familiar to her feet that she could run the full path in the dark.
When asked about her own first teacher, she recalls her father’s talent for storytelling, his trapline, and helping him with the furs.
“Regardless of how long students were in residential school, you always remember from when you were younger,” said Hanuse. “I spoke the language quite well when I was little. I left when I was six years old. You never forget the way it was.”
That remembering is what motivates Hanuse to bring language to classrooms, and traditional skills to Indigenous youth. Smiling, she pulls out a bullet casing from her desk drawer. It is important to her that young people have an opportunity to learn skills, inspired by her father.
“He'd ask my mom, ‘How many deer would you like?’ And she wanted two, because there were 10 of us. So, he would bring two bullets only and he came back with two deer.”
She’s heard from youth that they will not forget their moments with Hanuse and her stories. It’s her hope that they carry those teachings with them to draw strength for themselves and to teach others.
She has a photo from 20 years ago on top of one of her bookshelves. It’s of a young girl holding a drum that she had painted. It features a beautiful, howling wolf. Hanuse marvels at how quickly young people pick up the skills when someone takes the time to teach them. She says she’s grateful to have “been in the right place, and the right time,” to learn from language holders and knowledge keepers before they passed.
Hanuse shares how being silenced at residential school means it’s sometimes still difficult to talk in large groups. The other side of that is she’s talented at one-on-one conversations, something she carries into her youth work.
“Developing and creating a bond with students, with the full understanding of where they're coming from, how they're feeling,” said Hanuse. “If a student is struggling with something, I work to make them feel comfortable. They have to be comfortable before they can start to learn.”
When kids come into the school for the first time in kindergarten, she’s standing to greet them in the cloak room. She’s humble, so she wonders why “they always just light up” when they see her.
“They've never met me before. And I've always kind of wondered what do they see? It's something. I don't know what it is. It really makes you feel special as a teacher, mentor, and helper.”
Chief Brown knows what that something is.
“Julie manages to always make people feel like they can do it, and I think that she's the reason that a lot of our students have been able to graduate high school, go on to get a degree and better themselves and the community.”
Hanuse says, sometimes this means sending encouraging notes when she knows someone needs it. “You do what you can, knowing it can sometimes save a child.”
In 2022, B.C. became the first province to require an Indigenous-focused graduation component in the K to 12 education system. Expected to take effect in the 2023/24 school year, all secondary students are to complete Indigenous-focused coursework before they graduate.
While the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s call to action #23 regarding health care requires an increase in Indigenous health care practitioners, call to action #62 regarding education does not. Indigenizing curriculum and funding its implementation is discussed in #62, as is establishing “senior-level positions in government at the assistant deputy minister level or higher dedicated to Aboriginal content in education.” Yet there is no recommendation for increased Indigenous educators or support staff.
School District 72, where Hanuse works, has 1,284 students identifying as having Indigenous ancestry out of a student population of 5,500. There are 13 teachers and one district principal working in Indigenous education across the district. There are 12 youth workers, 14 educational assistants and one administrative assistant as support staff. These numbers are provided by Jennifer Patrick, manager of communications for the district, who notes, “we do not have formal records regarding their personal ancestry or identification.”
It’s hard to assess representation without tracking it.
For more than three decades, Hanuse has been bringing an Indigenous perspective into her classes with land-based and cultural activities, including bringing Elders in to teach canning and food preservation.
It’s difficult for her to imagine leaving the kids, but at some point Hanuse will retire. There are things she’d like to spend her retirement learning about, like preserving food, or she’d like to start sewing again.
She’s going to “ask the Creator about when to make that decision, because it’s all about the kids.”
Local Journalism Initiative Reporters are supported by a financial contribution made by the Government of Canada.