May 17, 2023

Vancouver, BC – The second year of Writing Lives: The Residential School Survivor Memoir Project wrapped up last night at a ceremony on campus where students presented the Indigenous Elders with their memoirs. 

In partnership with the Indian Residential School Survivors Society (IRSSS), Writing Lives is a two-semester course in which students meet with Indigenous Elders who survived the residential school system and help them tell their stories through memoirs. The 2022-23 cohort included three students paired with two Elders.

“When students partner with Elders to collaborate on writing their memoirs, they build trusting relationships that exemplify the principles of consent, consultation, and respect,” said course instructor Jill Goldberg. In hearing the Elders’ stories, students gain a feeling of accountability to those stories and to the Elders. I have seen the power of Writing Lives and it is transformative."

“The work our students are doing with Residential School Survivors to create their memoirs is deeply meaningful. I am grateful for the trust that has been given by the Elders in telling their history and see the care that has been given by our students throughout the process,” said Darren Bernaerdt, Interim Dean of Arts. “Writing Lives is one example of how Langara College is honouring the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action.” 

The program presents Indigenous and non-Indigenous students with a chance to deep dive into the personal narratives of individuals who experienced the atrocities of residential schools first-hand. Students are invited to be part of reconciliation in action by participating in a transformative experience that supports communities to heal from decades of trauma.

Squamish Elder Sam George worked with three students from the 2019-20 round of the course – Liam Belson, Dylan MacPhee and Tanis Wilson – to create a first draft of his memoir. When Sam expressed interest in seeing it published, he continued to work with instructor, Jill Goldberg. This collaboration produced The Fire Still Burns which will be released on May 31 by Purich Books/UBC Press. At 78 years old, George is one of the last survivors of the St. Paul’s Indian Residential School, which operated from 1899 to 1959, and is the only such institution in what is now North Vancouver. 

The Writing Lives project returns in September 2023. In the first semester, students study relevant literature and historical documents that contextualize the history of contact and colonization. They hear from guest speakers, likely partake in at least one field trip, and will acquire the knowledge and sensitivity that will enable them to move onto the second semester when they will meet and work with IRS Survivors.

About snəw̓eyəɬ leləm̓ Langara College
Located in beautiful Vancouver, B.C., Canada, snəw̓eyəɬ leləm̓ Langara College provides university-level education to more than 19,000 students annually. With more than 1,700 courses and 130 programs, Langara’s expansive academic breadth and depth allows students of all ages, backgrounds, and life stages to choose their own educational path. Langara is also known as snəw̓eyəɬ leləm, 'house of teachings', a name given to it by Musqueam, on whose unceded traditional territory the College is located.

Learn more.       
Mark Dawson       
Manager, Public Affairs       
Langara College