Josephine Charlie’s dedication to students earns honour

Life hasn’t always been easy for Josephine Charlie.

So when she sees the struggles of students who visit the Indigenous Student Centre, she can relate, and offer a sympathetic ear and a shoulder to cry on.

She recalls a student who would show up at her office every morning and cry. Every single school day.

“She would tell me how her life sucked, how she was struggling with school, bills, her kids. I would listen and support her and encourage her to go on. She went on and finished her certificate. And her diploma. And her bachelor’s degree. And now she’s out there, working and helping others.”

It is for this approach to serving and helping students that Josephine is being recognized as one of two winners of the UFV Staff Excellence award for 2019.

Josephine started at UFV as a student herself in her mid-40s, earning a Social Services diploma in 2005. She was drawn to becoming involved with Indigenous activities on campus right from the start.

“I saw a sign pointing to what was then called the Aboriginal Resource Centre and I went to check it out. I liked the feel of the place. They welcomed everyone who walked in. So I started to volunteer there. I would put out coffee and food for the students.”

She volunteered for several years and then became a work-study student. When Josephine completed her diploma, she had two part-time contracts before being hired into her role as Activities and Cultural Assistant.

Her official job within the Indigenous Student Centre is to organize activities and events that follow protocol and pass on cultural teachings.

In that capacity she organizes National Indigenous Peoples Day and Metis Day events, puts on monthly lunches for Indigenous students, and leads arts and crafts activities such as making dream catchers, mini button blankets, drums, rattles, and medicine bags.

But she’s also known for putting her heart into her work, and feeding hungry bellies.

“I make my own lunch in the centre kitchen every day, and I’m not going to make a small portion and eat it in front of students who are hungry, so I make enough to share.”

Josephine’s own journey to wellness was helped by the support of the Elders in the Stó:lō community.

Originally from the Stlatlimx Nation and the Seton Lake Band, Josephine was sent to the Kamloops Indian Residential School, so she grew up with little awareness of her Indigenous culture. Her husband is Stó:lō, and she is grateful to the Stó:lō Elders who have guided her adult journey.

Now she dedicates her life to helping others, and is happy to be doing it at UFV.

“When I walk through the doors of UFV I want to be the best person I can be,” she notes.

And she uses a longhouse analogy to illustrate how she and ISC employees support students.

“I view employees in our centre as corner-posts of the longhouse, we all carry an equal load. We provide shelter, we teach, we empower, and we encourage. And we watch the students grow.”

Shirley Hardman, UFV senior advisor on Indigenous Affairs, wholeheartedly supported the nomination of Josephine for the Staff Excellence award.

“Josephine is at the heart of the Indigenous Student Centre. What I recognize in Josephine is her ability to immediately identify with students. She knows their struggles in the university, in the community, and in their homes. She knows these things without ever really asking. She listens deeply. She has her finger on the pulse of the Stó:lō community. She uses this knowledge to inform her work with students, feeding them when they are hungry, encouraging them when they are lost, sharing Stó:lō teachings with them to get through the tougher times. This goes above and beyond what she was hired to do.”

Current students agree that Josephine is a deserving recipient of the Employee Excellence award.

“The lessons that she has shared with me go beyond her job title,” noted one student who supported Josephine’s nomination for the award. “Josephine takes care of the students at UFV as if we are her kin. I have never asked Josephine for a lesson, but when she starts to give one, I provide her with my undivided attention because I know it is worth hearing. She is more than just a support for the students here at UFV. She is a role model for how we should want to be, and a respected elder.”

“Josephine has shown us how to make many cultural crafts but most importantly she has taught us that we are responsible for our future, for keeping our traditions alive, for our own education, and for our Nations,” added another student.

“Josephine makes sure UFV is both a learning environment and a community; a community of vital relationships that are so a part of the academic environment,” noted another student.

“Josephine is a model for inclusivity. She invites everyone to attend the Indigenous cultural events and activities she organizes,” noted Leslie Olsen, technician-in-charge at the Chilliwack campus library. “Last summer she offered to teach our library staff how to make moccasins. She generously shared her supplies, knowledge, skills, and cultural stories.”