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
Nella Cook Nelson was born and raised in Alert Bay, B.C. and she descends from the N’amgis, Tsakis and Komoks Nation. A long-time advocate for Indigenous education, she grew up in a strong, well-read and industrious family. “In my family, education was seen as a given,” she recalls. “We had a huge library in our grandparents’ big house, and we also had books to read in our house, and I used to borrow books all the time from Granny Cook’s library. That was critical because for a woman to get an education, even at that time more than 50 years ago, was almost an expectation in my family – all of my sisters pursued post secondary training.”
In 1972, she moved to Victoria and attended Camosun College for the university transfer program. Later, she completed Bachelor degrees in Anthropology and Sociology as well as in Secondary Education at the University of Victoria.
She is a strong believer in the importance of providing pathways for people to achieve their educational potential. “In life, it’s really about constant bridging and connections,” she says. “From your K-12 education to college and university and then bringing community into that process.”
Nelson serves as the chair of the Indigenous Education Advisory council for Camosun College and the University Of Victoria. She has served in a leadership role on the Camosun College council for over 30 years. Now retired, when she first started teaching in B.C’s K-12 system in 1979, there was a distinct lack of Indigenous content in the curriculum at all education levels, and over the years she has worked hard to create change in those areas. She has earned praise for her achievements, including being actively involved in helping to develop the first study framework on First Nations for the B.C. Ministry of Education in the 1990s to being involved in the development of BC First Nations Studies 12.
“I think what I’m most passionate about is that there is a foundation in the education system and the work continues in the educational journey to make sure that the story of Indigenous people is woven into the official provincial curriculum,” she says. “That has been very important for me, to have a sense of place, a sense of belonging and a sense of a visible presence in the education system.”
Reflecting on the theme of the forum—‘Lives Well Lived’—Nelson says: “throughout my life and upbringing, I’ve been taught that giving back to community and being involved is our responsibility. Camosun is attached to community, and provides a springboard for a lot of people to continue their education and I want to raise my hands and acknowledge the college for their amazing success n this area.” She has also been involved with teams that have reviewed curriculum at Camosun College, recognizing that change is constant and you need to move with the tide.
Honoured for her many achievements, Nelson has received the Queen’s 125 Commemorative Medal, YM/YWCA Women of Distinction, the Camosun College and the University of Victoria Distinguished Alumni Awards and the Excellence in Cultural Heritage & Diversity Awards with the Representative of Children and Youth.
Her advice for young people today who are pursuing their education and finding their way? “When you’re travelling on your educational journey, you’re going to hit a few riptides, some fog and some wind and then sunshine, however you will find the strength to travel through all of these challenges to the light, and the reality is that you can be anything you want to be,” she says. “There are people to support you to create those bridges throughout the education system, to arrive at where you want to be, and who you want to be in your life and your career. Go for gold your people are waiting for you.”