Talela sits amongst greenery on VIU's Nanaimo campus

Enhancing belonging through stories: Talela Manson

September 27, 2022

Celebrating Indigenous writers at VIU

Talela Manson, from Snuneymuxw First Nation, has had VIU on their radar ever since they were little. Their grandfather, VIU Elder-in-residence Gary Manson, often took them to campus with him and they attended VIU’s Thuy’she’num Tu Smun’eem: Building a Foundation for our Youth summer camp when they were in Grade 9.

“From day one, it felt like a place I belonged and could thrive in,” says Talela. “Going from high school into university is definitely stressful and scary and induces a lot of anxiety, so having people you can learn from and who have gone through the same feelings as you makes you feel less alone.”

The 18-year-old is now an Exploratory Studies student at VIU. While they are most interested in the sciences – they want to work in the medical field, perhaps as a laboratory technician – they were surprised to discover that the class they enjoyed most in that first semester at VIU last fall was English.

“I’ve always struggled with it, to have fun writing, but I realized that first semester that it’s about finding the right teachers and the right group,” says Talela.

During the summer camps, students practiced journaling and below is one of Talela’s short stories from the 2020 summer camp. 

Why is it important to you to see Indigenous writers highlighted?

I think sharing stories is a way for people to learn and if you highlight Indigenous stories, it will be a way for people to get more information. It creates a network of people sharing their experiences. I think it’s important to include Indigenous voices, especially in a post-secondary environment. Many Indigenous students are coming from a place where education was feared. My Grandpa went to residential school and my Dad went to day school. For a long time, it was hard to see school as a safe place for Indigenous people. It was hard for me to see post-secondary as an option, hard to see myself in that context and that community. As a university student now, it’s great for me to be an inspiration to my younger cousins. I am able to support them and answer the questions I wasn’t able to ask when I was their age. I am one of the first people in my family going through those steps of what does post-secondary look like. I learned a lot of things for myself, such as how to register and how to apply for scholarships. I think it’s helpful to share that information and not just store it up. I don’t want my younger siblings to have to figure everything out for themselves.

Talela stands in front of the Gathering Place on VIU's Nanaimo campus

Talela Manson

"I think it’s important to include Indigenous voices, especially in a post-secondary environment. Many Indigenous students are coming from a place where education was feared. My Grandpa went to residential school and my Dad went to day school. For a long time, it was hard to see school as a safe place for Indigenous people."

2020: Dealing with the Stresses of a Global Pandemic

*Reprinted from the Voices of Summer booklet. Learn more.

10, 9, 8… it’s the final moments of 2019. People are cheering and standing around the TV for the countdown. It’s the calm before the storm.

7,6,5,4… we are counting away the year, saying goodbye. We get our airhorns and in get the positions we want to start this new year. Standing in anticipation, we embrace the calm before the storm of cheers.

3,2,1. “HAPPY NEW YEAR!” It’s at that very moment it seems like the entire world just erupts around me. Cheers are heard from every house in the neighborhood with various whistles, horns, and noisemakers tossed into the mix. Fireworks shoot into the sky, shimmering in the night. After the party dies down and a rush of exhaustion hits everyone, we finally lay down. Thinking and dreaming of all the new opportunities this new year will bring to us. What new year’s resolutions am I going to keep or throw away? It was exciting to witness a new decade, a new year. Little did we know that 2020 was going to be one of the worst years our world has witnessed...

The Beginning

The beginning of the year feels so long ago, but, back then, it seemed like nothing could go wrong. We still had a fresh start to the year, we had resolutions still going on, but then it all went downhill from there. Little did we know in January that we had a looming pandemic coming our way, and the first case was already in Canada. Little coverage was made of it; instead, rumours abounded. The scrambling from class to class with lunch somewhere in between left room for a lot of gossip. And the transition from winter into spring brought new stories every day. It wasn’t until the final week of school spring break when everyone became concerned. COVID-19 cases were getting closer and closer west. No one knew how soon the disease would arrive.

Those two weeks of spring break were just enough to close down schools all across Canada. March 30 was the day students in BC were supposed to go back to school—that didn’t happen. It was our first day with the new normal. Online classes, designated shoppers, social-distancing orders and frequent hand washing were the new normal. It was an uncertainty many people had worried about that had now become true. It started to feel like a reality, with some of the scenes feeling like something out of a movie, but we were living it. We were experiencing history, a global pandemic, and it’s unlikely any of us will ever experience something such as this ever again. It’s mindboggling to think about, but it’s even crazier to think how easily some of us adjusted, while others didn’t. I’m not speaking on behalf of the anti- maskers; I can’t even get into how unintelligent and selfish it is not to follow mask and social distancing protocols. I’m talking about people like you and me, people who are taking the pandemic seriously and who understand the risk. This fear that we have comes with anxiety and trauma. I don’t know if you actually have trauma or anxiety, or if you even believe in the virus or not, but you don’t need to for you to understand and sympathize with all the experiences people have been going through. That’s one of the reasons we wear masks—to protect others, those who will be most affected.

Living with COVID-19

As I write this, I am sitting on the ferry with my face mask, scared of the people walking by. Certain things have become fears for me during this pandemic, and I don’t know if others share the same fear or anxiety I do. Right now, being around people and in areas where large numbers of people are leaves me overanalyzing and self-conscious. I am aware of how close I am to people and the easiest way down an aisle. I often decide it is just easier to stay home. My house has been a safe haven during this quarantine, being the only place where I don’t need to be cautious of what I touch or what I am doing around people. Restrictions are our new normal. Masks, hand sanitizer, social distancing, quarantine, and handwashing are the new way of living. It is a necessary trend to protect our loved ones and each other; it’s life-saving behaviour backed up by hundreds or even thousands of health professionals all over the world. Being told that if we go against health recommendations that people may get harmed or even die is terrifying, but we see people purposely and blatantly ignoring these guidelines. We are told if we don’t follow the health recommendations that people will get sick and may even die if they have any underlying conditions. 

It isn’t new that First Nations people look up to and respect elders in the community. COVID-19 poses a great threat to our elders, who are an important part of many Indigenous communities. Elders, who hold a lot of knowledge for First Nations communities, are at risk, a risk to culture, teachings, and loved ones if they were to get sick. Communities that don’t regard their elders the way Indigenous communities do may not understand this struggle, but it causes extensive damage to lose these vital cultural connections. I am terrified that one wrong move can get me, or even worse, the grandparents I live with, sick. Right now, I am living in a world that poses a threat to my family and many like mine. It may not be intimidating to those who are likely going to survive getting sick, but for me it means everything. It means putting my grandparents, my caretakers, the people who took me in, my whole world, at risk. Seeing perfectly healthy people ignore these guidelines scares me. I am doing everything I can to not get sick, so my family doesn’t need to deal with the loss of a loved one. 

It is an anxiety I can’t let go of easily. I beat myself up if I don’t follow every single guideline perfectly. If I forget to use hand sanitizer that one time, my mind thinks of the worst-possible scenario: I’d get sick, and then my family would get sick. If I get too close to a group of people one day in the park, I again think of the worst-case scenario: I’d get sick, and then my family would get sick. If I didn’t wash my hands that one time I came into the house, I worry I’d get sick, and then my family would get sick.

My grandparents wouldn’t survive that.

I second guess the path I’m going to take in stores to make sure I don’t get too close to people. I compulsively use hand sanitizer whenever I touch something in public. I make sure I always have a face mask on me and use it whenever I am in a public space. This is the new normal.

Into the Future

With August coming to an end and September just around the corner, we are getting ready for that first day back to school. This year, however, is extremely different from all the other years—we are going back to school in a global pandemic. With schools already being a breeding ground for the flu and common colds, it is reasonable to question the state schools will be in with COVID-19. It’s debatable whether going back to school is a good thing or a bad thing. I have heard every reason for not going to school or deciding to go to school. The way I see it is a spectrum. Everyone has their own reasons, a personal pros and cons list. If the cons outweigh the pros, then it is reasonable to stay home. This is my exact situation. I have many reasons to continue online schooling. One of the reasons may just be me being paranoid, but if my mental health is in question, then that is definitely a good reason to stay home. 

Not everyone is good with traditional schooling. If I learned anything during the quarantine period, it’s that. Looking at the future, I think we are so focused on getting back to normal that we forgot that the old normal didn’t work for everyone. We had our systems get broken down, we shouldn’t just go back to the old. We have an opportunity to create a new and better way of living, something that has been overdue for a long time now. I am excited for what the far future holds. But for the next coming weeks, I will be focusing on staying healthy.


–Talela Manson

Related Posts

Got an article idea for the blog? Email students@viu.ca.

Sign up for our blog