Zelda Williams (Future 4 Nations) Interview

Photo by Unsplash user  Mi Pham

Photo by Unsplash user Mi Pham

Zelda describes herself as an empowered First Nations woman, who has had the gift of having spent many weekends and summer visits with her late grandmother in the Musqueam First Nation when she was growing up, and then residing as an adult in the Chehalis First Nation.

Although Zelda has moved from her ECE Manager and head teacher position in the Future4Nations AHS program into the position of Program Director, she still lives by an open-door policy and continues to engage with classes in the AHS program. Sometimes she covers as a substitute teacher in the program and greets families at the door when they arrive at 9 a.m.  She likes to model relational interaction with families for her staff, so that they can see how strongly she values this aspect of the program.  She feels a strong bond with the families in her community, and makes a point of sitting in on interviews and registration so that families know they have that direct connection and that they are heard within the formal processes.  She expresses her sense of honour and privilege to have had the opportunity to serve families in her community:  “If I can make a difference in one person’s life, I know I am doing my job.”

Zelda’s strength has come with the help of those who believed in her.  She has had wonderful teachers to lead and guide her in life.  She especially credits her grandmother and mother as significant influences in her life.  Spending time with her grandmother on-reserve in the Musqueam First Nation gave her experience of lived culture, wisdom, and many learning opportunities.  She also expresses gratitude for the mentoring she received from Janice Silver, who was the previous Program Coordinator at Future 4 Nations and Zelda’s boss for 19 years. Janice saw Zelda’s potential and mentored her into the capacities and skills to be ready to take on the position.  Zelda makes special mention of the support the program has received over the years from the PHAC Consultants, particularly, in the early years of running the program, the amazing support and belief in the program from Stephen Bujnowicz, who made a huge difference to the program by emphasizing the value of clear boundaries and providing teaching on how to maintain standards around paperwork and financial recording.

In her career at Future 4 Nations, Zelda has served over 500 children over more than 20 years within this small community of around 60-80 families. She has had opportunities to support families through joys and tragedies.  She has developed great resilience, and has learnt that it is necessary to let things go and accept that you can’t always please everybody, that boundaries are important.  She still stays in contact with the children she has taught, keeping aware of their successes and challenges as they move through life.  She loves it when she can find opportunities to share her blessings and give back to the community.  Because she is known by families and has earned trust, sometimes she can find ways to offer practical support in a way that maintains the honour and dignity of the individual, when she knows someone is experiencing challenges in their life.  She feels honoured by the grace of these on-going connections.

Ruth Henkel, who lived from 1962 to 2005, had a dream for Early Childhood Education.

My dream is to be a Kindergarten teacher.

My vision is to create stories in our language for our children.

To have our own school where children will have a clear understanding of one’s self.

A school where all the positive teachings of our mind, body and spirit is a priority.

A school where values such as respect are taught modeled and implemented daily.

A school where children are immersed in our language and culture.

A safe place to nurture the innocence and the true spirit of each child.

My vision is to help build a new generation of children where there is no negativity,

No unhealthiness and no hate or fear.

Instead, a school where we can celebrate life and love through a sense of belonging and pride.

My dream is to see our children’s dreams come true.

In honouring Zelda with the Ruth Henkel Memorial Award in 2015, AHSABC noted, “Her strongest gift is sharing her passion and dedication to her culture openly and generously with staff, children and families.  Zelda carries herself with pride and respect in all walks of her life and she always demonstrates respect for the culture of others.  Zelda truly cares about all the children that come through our program and she leaves a piece of her love, nurturing and respect in their hearts.  She has a natural way of ensuring that children feel nurtured, accepted and comfortable to be here and away from home. “

Zelda and the Future 4 Nations AHS team were honoured this year to be able to put forward a successful application for one of their parent volunteers to receive the ANSABC Soaring Eagle Award.  This Award recognizes the contributions and accomplishments of individuals who offer their time in an AHS project in BC and who have given their own time, talent and energy to enhance the AHS program.  This parent has been involved at the Future 4 Nations AHS for ten years and has supported the program with cooking and cleaning, practical help, crafts, and making gifts for the children.  She has demonstrated tremendous loyalty to the program.  She is a strong, empowered woman, not First Nations herself, but her 5 children and her husband are First Nations, and the family lives on-reserve.  She has great initiative and a giving heart.  Like many of the parents, she finds it hard to receive gifts, but her trust has been developed by long-term relationship and collaborative acceptance in the community, so the team tricked her into going to the Annual Spring Conference in Prince George where the Soaring Eagle Award was presented to her.  It was a wonderful moment for the community.

Zelda’s hope for all the children and families who participate in the AHS program is that they will experience a great, culturally rich support system and a balance of the key elements: spiritual, emotional and physical.