Good day, IY SCACEL.
I am so glad to be part of such important work with the Living Lab Project at UVIC. Some folks may be familiar with my background, most recently serving Council at Tsawout and being part of the W̱SÁNEĆ School Board. My personal background reflects extensive family relations in the Coast Salish Island Community. My Parents were George and Geraldine Underwood. I am one of 15 children born and raised in Tsawout First Nation. My ancestral name is TIWENOMOT. The name was given to me by my Mom, Geraldine Thorne Underwood. She was given the name from her Grandmother Mary Jane Peters of Snuneymux. I was blessed with knowing and being influenced by two sets of hard-working Grandparents. My Mom’s Parents were Chuck and Evelyn Thorne of QUW’UTSUN and my Dad’s Parents were Bert and Ellen Underwood of Tsawout First Nation.
In my education, I was guided by their teachings, hopes, and prayers for me. I was able to graduate from Claremont Senior Secondary in 1970. I completed a Bachelor’s Degree in Child and Youth Care from UVIC in May 1978 and graduated with a Master’s degree in May 2018 in Indigenous Governance. My work has been rich and varied. I have always worked around education. My first big job was as Secretary Receptionist at Mount Newton Junior Secondary. That inspired me to go back for more education. I thought I wanted to be a teacher but found that process to be very challenging and switched to Child and Youth Care. I ended up with my Professional Teacher’s Certification later and worked in Counselling, Learning Assistance, First Nations Studies with the late Dave Elliott, and did a lot of subbing as I raised my daughters. I am deeply touched forever by working alongside the late Dave Elliott. He instilled in me a great passion for Indigenous First Nation knowledge, language recovery, and for valuing education.
I have also served as Social Worker, Drug and Alcohol Counsellor, and Deputy Director for Aboriginal Services B.C. It was my great privilege to be part of the resurgence of First Nations jurisdiction in child and family services and to work with Indigenous First Nations communities to establish over 23 First Nations child and family services in B.C. I valued the opportunity but found there were huge challenges in negotiating appropriate funding for Indigenous First Nations child and family services. The work was very labour intensive and took me away from family and community. I have many great memories and friendships through encounters with agency workers, visiting communities, and with many former children in care. It was such important work and I continue to hope and pray that it will get better. Our children are our most important investments and they need opportunities for health, safety, education, housing, and nurturing care. It is my big hope that First Nations communities will continue to build housing for the up and coming generations of Young Parents trying to raise their children amidst many pressures.
In contributing to social change I am so glad to be influencing the development of relationships that are leading the revitalization of Indigenous Language, Indigenous Knowledge and Teachings, and influencing curriculum for change in post-secondary institutions of Law, Social Work, Health, and Education. I am glad to have an opportunity to advance my interest in social policy reform to work with the Living Lab Project, the TETACES Climate Action Project, Watershed Education, and as a mentor to younger students. I have been raised to contribute part of my energy to greater good and to give my knowledge and experience to be a helpful part of positive changes. I am most excited to be back at UVIC in Anthropology guided in my program by Supervisors Brian Thom and Andrea Walsh and to be part of a learning community again. It is a deep honour to be included in Learning from the Land at the Ye’yumnuts site in QUW’UTSUN.