Cassidy Caron smiling with a Metis sash in background

Embracing new opportunities with the Community Cousins Program: Cassidy Caron

January 29, 2021

Celebrating Indigenous mentorship at VIU

Vancouver Island University’s ‘su’luqw’a’ Community Cousins Aboriginal student mentorship program is celebrating its 10th anniversary in September 2021. In honour of this important milestone, we are sharing the stories of 12 people closely connected with the program – one per month – leading up to the anniversary.

The ‘su’luqw’a’ Community Cousins program builds capacity for mentors to gain leadership and employability skills through outreach and mentoring activities. Students hone skills in self-awareness, communication, leadership, self-care and an exploration of personal values, with an emphasis on “telling one’s story” as a path to self-empowerment through outreach to others.

 

Cassidy Caron has had a busy political and professional career since graduating from VIU in 2014 with a Bachelor of Arts degree. The First Nations Studies major immediately put her education to work in the BC Public Service’s Indigenous Youth Internship Program. She then entered the world of politics as Métis Nation British Columbia’s Minister Responsible for Youth, working to develop youth leadership opportunities and advocating for Métis youth-specific funding and policies at the provincial and national levels. Cassidy launched her own independent consultancy business in 2018 and is now pursuing the next step in her educational journey – a master’s degree. She says joining the Community Cousins while at VIU helped give her the confidence she needed to pursue her goals. 

 

What have you been up to since graduating from VIU? 

It is hard to believe that it has been almost seven years since I graduated from VIU. Right after I was accepted into BC Public Service’s Indigenous Youth Internship Program, where I gained experience as a Junior Policy Analyst with the Ministry of Environment. The last three months of the internship is intended to provide interns with an experience working with Indigenous communities. I completed my internship with a community-based research and program evaluation consulting firm and ended up staying to work with the firm for almost four years. In that time, my work focused on researching and evaluating programs and initiatives implemented in, by and for Indigenous communities throughout Canada in areas such as Indigenous justice and crime prevention, women’s safety and wellness, education, cultural safety, Indigenous health and health promotion, reconciliation, youth programming, mental health, addictions and holistic wellness, economic development, food security and Indigenous governance.

 

Additionally, in 2016 I successfully ran in Métis Nation British Columbia’s (MNBC’s) provincial election. I spent four years as a provincially elected representative of MNBC, serving as the Provincial Métis Youth Chair and Minister Responsible for Youth. I supported the coordination, design, resourcing, implementation and evaluation of innovative, culturally grounded engagement and leadership development opportunities for Métis youth within all levels of MNBC’s governance. I gained valuable experience as an advocate for the Métis people, working closely with cabinet ministers, senior officials and ministerial special representatives to negotiate and design Métis youth-specific funding provisions and policy considerations at the provincial and national levels.

 

How did being part of the Community Cousins shape who you are today?

Community Cousins provided me with a safe and welcoming space and network of support to lean on while navigating the challenges of moving away from my home community to pursue post-secondary education. The program opened the door to new experiences and opportunities to grow. Being part of the Community Cousins was one of the first times I truly stepped out of my comfort zone to participate in something new. That experience, and doing so in such a wonderful space, allowed me to find the confidence I needed to pursue the goals I had set for myself.

 

Were there any other highlights from your time at VIU you’d like to share?

Looking back on my experience at VIU, I am always grateful for the community of people that I surrounded myself with. I met my closest friends at VIU and I frequently cross paths with previous classmates or professors at various conferences or meetings. After I graduated, I began to recognize the large network I was able to build while at VIU.

 

What advice would you give VIU students that you wish you’d known in your first year?

Immerse yourself in community, whether you remain connected in various ways to your home community or seek out opportunities to be a part of, and contribute to, the community that surrounds you at VIU. Community Cousins is one such community. I was nervous to step out of my comfort zone and sign up to join the mentorship program, but I am so grateful that I did!

 

What’s next for you?

In the fall of 2018, I launched my own independent consultancy. Using the knowledge, skills and perspectives acquired through my education, professional and political experiences, as well as through my deep community involvement, I explore and implement innovative approaches to community development and nation building. I now partner with a circle of Indigenous consultants known as First Peoples Group, which has become one of the most trusted Indigenous advisory firms in Canada, offering management consulting services that promote effective Indigenous – non-Indigenous collaboration and understanding.

Additionally, in May of 2020 I began the next step of my education journey. I am now in my third term of the Masters of Community Development program offered by the University of Victoria. The program is online, which allows me to continue working and studying remotely from Huntsville, Ontario, where I now live with my fiancée and our dog.

 

 

The Community Cousins is generously supported by the RBC Foundation, The Peter Cundill Foundation, Rob and Claire Murphy, and many other valued community donors and partners.

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