Alumni Panelist: Lives Well Lived
Friday, Nov. 26, 2021 | 1 to 3:30pm
The Alex & Jo Campbell Centre for Health and Wellness
Interurban Campus, Camosun College
Charlene Thompson-Reid is a Resource Social Worker at Usma Nuu-chah-nulth Family and Child Services. “My traditional name is Wiic-Sa-wth-iim and it means I’m never going to be without,” she explains. “Despite growing up in a home with very severe domestic violence and alcoholism, the way I look at it is that I’ve been fortunate to have had successes and I’m gifted now with my family—my two children, eight grandchildren and two great grandchildren.”
Charlene credits her Camosun education with transforming her life at a critical time when she was trying to discover her potential. “I was scared to death to go back to school. If my late husband Art Thompson didn’t encourage me to go back to school, I’d be on welfare today,” she says. “I wouldn’t be an independent strong Nuu-chah-nulth woman, living on my own, paying my own way, and I feel that’s really empowering because of my education.”
Charlene’s husband, Art Thompson, who passed away in 2003, was a renowned Indigenous artist, alumnus and long-time friend of Camosun. Many years after surviving his own experiences of abuse, he was one of the first witnesses testifying at court against the injustices of the residential school system, and he won his case against his abuser. Art also took the Canadian federal government to court for the implementation of residential schools and he won. Art was one of the first survivors to open the door to make the whole reconciliation process possible. “I feel like we were the ones picked to be that voice for thousands of First Nations people across Canada by telling our story and then healing,” says Charlene. “Healing was very important to Art and he encouraged us all do to everything we could to heal together and help others who were struggling.”
At Camosun, Charlene earned an associate Degree in Criminology and then went on to graduate with a Bachelor of Social Work from the University of Victoria.
The forum’s theme—‘Lives Well Lived—has a special meaning for Charlene. “I feel like I am doing what I was put on earth to do,” she says. “I was born into a broken family, however, with healing today our family has more passion to talk about our experiences and how it affected each and every one of us. Our daughter Evelyn is one of the lucky ones, she didn’t see the unhealthy part of us, as we were already healing by the time she was growing up.”
Charlene is passionate in how education can bring people together to break the cycles of trauma. “We need to start incorporating cultural teachings, especially the history of our people, and understanding the intergenerational effects within the residential school system, because all our kids need to know what happened to their parents and grandparents in those schools,” she explains. “How come grandma doesn’t hug me or grandpa’s so angry and won’t teach us the language. Why is dad the way he is? This is what we need to understand so that we can move forward in healing with compassion.”
As a social worker, Charlene is pleased to be able to make a positive difference through her work each and every day. “I love my work”. Charlene is following through on the truth and reconciliation calls of action around child welfare by supporting her colleagues in the placement of children with First Nations family, extended family, community or neighbouring communities. As a part of her role, Charlene also provides information to caregivers about the impact of the residential school system on children and connects them with cultural workers.
In addition to the child safety work, Usma has a Prevention Team which delivers numerous programs on cultural teachings and prevention work. We’re relearning our languages one word at a time. And what I love the most is that we take the time to celebrate the important things like people’s birthdays and graduations and their achievements. The way I look at it, I came full circle without even knowing it.”
Her advice for the youth of today? “Understand our history, understand the impact residential schools had on the family system, get an education, please get an education,” she says. “You’re worthy, no matter what anyone says, you’re worthy of an education and you’re worthy of success.”