VIU Student Press

New VIU counselor focuses on Indigenous students

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Above: Noelle Hanuse, who is from the Oweekeno and Klahoose First Nations, is the latest member of VIU’s Counseling Services team. 📷 VIU Communications

By Jenn McGarrigle, VIU Communications 

Noelle Hanuse is on a quest – to reach out to Indigenous students at Vancouver Island University (VIU); those who may not be aware of the counselling services available at the university, or might have previously hesitated to access those services.

One of VIU’s core values is to provide a welcoming and culturally relevant environment for Indigenous students. As part of supporting this value, VIU recently hired Hanuse, who is from the Oweekeno and Klahoose First Nations, to provide individual counselling sessions for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous students. She is also organizing mental health-themed workshops at Shq’apthut, VIU’s Aboriginal Gathering Place.

 “Some Indigenous students may be wary of the idea of counselling, and for lots of different reasons,” Hanuse said. “For one thing, Indigenous students often come from a very community-based approach, so individualized counselling sessions might seem new to them.”

“Traditionally, Western therapy hasn’t acknowledged spirit, and that’s a foundational part of how Indigenous peoples relate to the world. Western counselling also comes from the same system that historically oppressed our people. Healing from colonialism is a major health issue and healing practices need to reflect cultural realities as well as core values. Non-Indigenous Canadians can also benefit from an Indigenous perspective of health and wellness.” 

Hanuse joins four other full-time counsellors and two part-time counsellors in the department. Her role is to provide culturally sensitive individual counselling, assessment, and crisis intervention services to students with personal, emotional and mental health issues – from a perspective that respects Indigenous ways of being and knowing.

Hanuse has a Bachelor of Education through the University of British Columbia’s Indigenous Teaching Education Program; a Master of Education in Indigenous Education and Leadership from Simon Fraser University; a Master of Arts in Indigenous Community Counselling Psychology from the University of Victoria; and diplomas in Progressive Counselling, Natural Spiritual Healing and Transformation Hatha Yoga. She has many years’ experience in supporting and counselling Indigenous youth and adults, including as a Counsellor at the Native Education College, a counsellor for School District 46, and at the Vancouver Aboriginal Child and Family Services Society.

“I’m also a residential school survivor, and many Indigenous students have parents or grandparents who are as well, so I can help them understand what’s happening in their lives because of that historic trauma, as well as make peace with the past and move forward in the way that feels right for them,” she said.

On top of her regular counselling duties, Hanuse, who has been at VIU since mid-January, will run some events at Shq’apthut, starting off by leading workshops at Shq’apthut that draw strongly on her background in meditation. Called Honoring the Spirit: Energy Care for Indigenous Students, she is teaching students breathing techniques to help calm, balance, and ground themselves.

“This fall, VIU organized a series of events around the topic of reconciliation, which can help with understanding, but at the same time, it can open up a can of worms and [students] can feel deep, deep pain,” says Hanuse. “For some of the students, it’s the first time they’re hearing about it. This workshop is about taking care of themselves.”

Marge Huntley, VIU’s Director of Student Affairs, says Hanuse is a welcome addition to the Counselling Office at VIU’s Nanaimo campus. 

“Noelle adds greater depth and breadth to the existing experience within our Counselling Department, and it ensures our team represents the diversity of our campus,” she said. “Her background and experience will also better meet the needs of our Indigenous student population.”

Hanuse’s position is made possible by the Student Services Fee, which is also supporting two other positions – a Disability Services Mental Health Access Specialist and a Mental Health Learning Support Strategist.

The Mental Health Access Specialist will work with students with complex mental health and psychiatric issues who require academic and classroom supports, develop initiatives to help these students make the most of their educational experiences, and provide expert advice and consultation for faculty and staff. The Mental Health Learning Support Strategist will support students whose academic success is impacted by their mental health concerns by providing learning and academic management services.

VIU has also collaborated with Island Health and the Division of Family practice to bring a part-time general practitioner and a consulting psychiatrist to the Health and Wellness Centre. By the end of March, a Mental Health and Substance Use Clinician from Island Health will also be on campus. The space needed to house the new Island Health professionals was funded through the Student Services Fee. 

The Mental Health and Substance Use Clinician will see students with moderate to severe mental illnesses and provide brief intervention supports and direct referrals to community mental health resources and programming.

“Being able to get an appointment with mental health practitioners directly on campus rather than having to go to a clinic or the hospital improves access to mental health services for students significantly,” says Huntley.