JANET: You coordinate personal skills development programs at Yukon College, both on campus and in the rural communities served by the college. Are there any problems that occur primarily because you work in the North?
LILLIAN: One of the major issues is the sense of isolation. There aren't other institutions in the Yukon doing similar work; there aren't many people involved in exactly the same work. I don't have many people to bounce ideas off. People don't always understand what you're trying to do. There's also a little bit of feeling that you're out on a limb; you're a good target to take potshots at!
JANET: Give me an example of being "out on a limb".
LILLIAN: Proposing a college native student support committee. It was difficult to work it through the system. But people are beginning to see the worth of such a committee, that it really can bring about some concrete action and be a positive force in the college.
JANET: When we were talking about doing this interview, you mentioned an experimental project which used theatre techniques. Tell me that story.
LILLIAN: This year, a specialist in popular theatre and I got talking about the possibility of her using theatre techniques to teach oral communications skills and to bring about more cohesiveness in basic adult education classes. That has been quite interesting. We've had ups and downs, but I think the technique has real potential for reaching people and getting at emotional issues that are important to learning and education, to really discuss what their education means to them, and what is getting in the way.
JANET: Are there any changes you've made on personal development curriculum materials and practices? These courses did not develop in the North and their instructors are usually not trained in the North. How does this affect your work?
LILLIAN: We've attempted to relate things to the community. We're struggling right now with the whole issue of work. In small Yukon communities there's not a lot of employment, so you can't do a regular job-search workshop. You have to talk about what is meant by work. Maybe work is not paid bartering services, doing volunteer work, helping out with community activities. You need to look at local initiatives: how does economic development fit in with work, and with paid work? It's a community development model. Small communities have a subsistence economy, hunting or fishing, relying on the land. Its important to say, "yes, that's legitimate." A lot of non-natives don't realize that that's contributing to the community.
Another activity was a community map: people drew the way they saw the place and all its resources. They were quite surprised at all the resources they have. Community people came in to show us how to put together a contract proposal. The students used a wood cutting service as an example, working with a local accountant. He showed them how to do it, and they researched licensing, regulations and so on. It was a very concrete project that they could relate to; putting together the proposal, working out the details, bringing in community people to talk about the economics of planning.
JANET: Now that we've talked about some of the problems, what about the resources and opportunities available in the Yukon.
LILLIAN: We have really good, strong adult educators in the North. These people are resourceful survivors. When you're living up here, you learn to adapt. You realize that things don't quite fit, and you have to be innovative. Jobs in the North have a broader scope: we have more flexibility. We're able to try new stuff that maybe people down South wouldn't be able to try because jobs are more focused or specialized.
JANET: What have you learned about working more effectively with the native students at Yukon College?
LILLIAN: One of the key things is the relationship with the student. It's especially important because many native students have had negative school experiences. If the classroom environment is positive, then it feels okay to be there, and, therefore, learning is good. The other thing is that to be a good teacher, you have to be a good learner. You can't be afraid of students' criticisms or suggestions for improvement; you use the information to improve your teaching. You find out from them what they want to learn; you're honest about it and try to incorporate it wherever possible.