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Metis educator keeping language, history alive in Sooke School District

Jo-Ina Young is resident Metis elder at Ecole John Stubbs Memorial in Colwood
Jo-Ina Young and her puppet, Rosie, teach kids at Sooke School District schools about Metis culture and history. (Courtesy of Jo-Ina Young)

National Indigenous Peoples Day (June 21) offers a chance to come together to celebrate and learn about Metis, First Nations and Inuit traditions. But for Jo-Ina Young, it is just one day out of 365 she spends teaching others about her Indigenous culture.

As cultural education director for the Metis Nation of Greater Victoria, and resident Metis elder at Ecole John Stubbs Memorial school, Young teaches students about Metis culture and history. She teaches them history, Michif – the language of Metis – as well as traditional songs and dancing.

Being taught by a resident elder allows the students to form a greater connection with local Indigenous cultures, she said. And they’re more enthusiastic to learn than she expected, especially dances such as the Red River jig.

“Man, they’re good. They’re dancing up a storm. At that age, it’s hard to get kids to do that normally.”

Young also teaches at John Stubbs and other schools using her puppet/assistant teacher Rosie.

“I learned ventriloquism from the teacher saying, ‘Jo-Ina be quiet,’ and I didn’t want to shut up. So I just learned to talk without moving my mouth,” she said.

Using a puppet helps engage kids with learning a song in a new language or learning about history, but it also engages adults, too, as Young has found when she and Rosie presented to the Metis Nation of B.C.

Young has been involved with the Sooke School District for a number of years, but this is her first full year as a resident elder. In 2020 she won a Victoria Community Leadership Lifelong Learner Award for her work as an educator.

Her work in schools is important to help preserve her language, she said, but major events such as the National Indigenous Peoples Day (June 21) celebration at Royal Roads University help open doors for people who may not have had the opportunity to learn in school.

“It’s really wonderful for people to come and see culture,” said Young, one of the organizers of the event. “It just gets people starting talking. And once you get people talking, then they learn a little bit and learn we’re not so mysterious. Sometimes it’s a soft place to ask a question, because a lot of times people are afraid to ask a question in case they think they might be asking it wrong. When you come down to one of these things, everybody is just there to answer questions.”

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