Mi'kmaw writer, actor is new co-ordinator of UPEI's Indigenous Student Centre

·3 min read

The new co-ordinator of UPEI's Mawi'omi Indigenous Student Centre wants to make sure the university's Indigenous students feel a connection to their culture.

Julie Pellissier-Lush is a well-known P.E.I. writer, actor, educator of Mi'kmaw culture and heritage. She is the province's poet laureate.

She said the departure of the centre's previous co-ordinator left a gap.

"I kept thinking of all of our Indigenous students that were working hard at getting their post-secondary [education] and really not having any connection to home or connection to Indigenous culture," she told guest host Angela Walker on Mainstreet PEI.

"So I felt that was really important for them to have somebody there for them."

Natalia Goodwin/CBC
Natalia Goodwin/CBC

Mawi'omi is the Mi'kmaw word for gathering place. The Mawi'omi Indigenous Student Centre has been open since 2008 to support Indigenous students at UPEI, including help with admissions, course selection, and access to tutoring and other student services.

My role is to make sure that they stay connected with the outside world as well as connecting them with the Indigenous culture here on P.E.I. and further away. - Julie Pellissier-Lush

Pellissier-Lush said there are two parts to her new role. The first is to work with students who are both on-campus and studying virtually from home.

"The second part would be to go out into the communities and make our community members aware that when it comes time, do their children want to come to UPEI, that they know it's a safe place, there's going to be faces that they know here," said Pellissier-Lush.

"So it is a little bit of recruitment as well, which is awesome."

Connecting students to Indigenous culture

She also hopes to connect students to the larger Indigenous community.

"Sometimes when you're a student, you get really, really focused on your books and you sort of start missing out on some of the larger picture," said Pellissier-Lush.

"So I think my role is to make sure that they stay connected with the outside world as well as connecting them with the Indigenous culture here on P.E.I. and further away as well."

Ebb & Flow: Tides of Settlement on PEI 2020/Facebook
Ebb & Flow: Tides of Settlement on PEI 2020/Facebook

Pellissier-Lush said she is brainstorming ideas for workshops or webinars for the students, and how to connect them with Mi'kmaw elders.

Right now, through the centre's elder-in-residence program, Elder Judy Clark is available one day a week to meet with students.

"If there's any of our Indigenous students who just require maybe some spiritual guidance or an elder just to talk to, we provide that here as well, which is so important," said Pellissier-Lush.

"This is something that [students] most likely would have gotten in their own community. But being away from their community, they're here now and they can still reach out and get those connections," she said.

'Building bridges'

Pellissier-Lush said her role is not just to help Indigenous students.

"It's also to reach out to the non-Indigenous community and do some cultural teaching, some cultural training, some workshops, some storytelling nights," she said.

"Just so that they can realize that there isn't that much of a difference, and maybe they can build those connections."

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