Kayla Hartley and Maya McNamara / Staff reporters

Carrie Clarke, the youth worker of the Aboriginal education department, shares a little bit about herself. “My name is Carrie Clarke, my ancestry is the Nlaka’pamux nation which means, ‘people of the creeks’ [and I’m] from the Merritt BC area. It will be 23 years in February of next year since I first started my job at Gleneagle [in 1996]. I work with mostly Aboriginal students in district 43.”

Peers can connect with Clarke and find their heritage and explore where they come from by asking or conversing with her. “I think it is very important if you have Aboriginal ancestry to step up and step forward to become a part of it because it is a part of you and you should explore and discover it,” Clarke said.

She carried on by explaining why it can be hard to hide your identity. “Historically in the past… people did not share their ancestry or they did not acknowledge they had ancestry because it was banned for many years and they did not want to be taken away from their families or put in residential schools.”

Walter Larson, an Aboriginal youth worker, was the individual who insisted she take an opening position as youth worker, she expressed that she is grateful and that she feels the work had chosen her. “I used to be a nurse but when I had my two kids, I didn’t work for ten years and when I thought it was time to go back to work, my youngest had started kindergarten. I did not want to carry on with nursing because that would mean shift work and less time with my kids.”

Clarke had seen a Tri-City advertisement prior to Larson’s, and insisted on taking up the position. “The administration hired me right on the spot, then down the road they said they needed some substitutes for youth workers that were off sick. [They] heard how good I was working with kids and asked if I was interested in working as a youth worker.”

Clarke had noticed a difference in numbers of people who came forward with their heritage over the years,

“There are definitely more Aboriginal students [and families] that are stepping forward and claiming their identity now compared to when I first started. When I started there weren’t nearly as many students who had ancestry in schools as there is nowadays. Being in 2019, there is now 2600 students who [were] claimed on our list, as when I first started 23 years ago there might have only been a couple hundred.”

Working with K-12 students Clarke has experiences and pleasant memories; explaining it is a very rewarding job.

“I am lucky enough to work with these students and families, following kindergarten kids right through graduation and even further them going off to post-secondary and doing what they love and continuing their education, It’s very rewarding; it’s also very rewarding when I have students that touch base with me after years of my seeing them.”

Janice Whatley was one of the few that had stayed in contact with her and one of the first people she had worked with. “I worked with her [and her] family. She phoned me last summer and she was so surprised she remembered my phone number from all those years ago. She thought she should give it a go and see if it was still my number. When she got a hold of me she was so excited and told me about how she was doing now and what her family is like. She is a grandma now and that was really exciting,” said Clarke.

A second student Clarke had worked with was wanting to catch up, “[Zachiarah Matheson] was another student that contacted [her] last May who wanted to get together for coffee because he just wanted to say ‘hey just wanted to touch base, see how you’re doing I’d like to fill you in on how I’m doing now, because you were the one person that reached out to me.’ [It] is really rewarding when things like that happen.”

Tamara Hackett, a grade 10 student from the Coast Salish, Squamish nation, shines light upon what Clarke has done for her and for other Aboriginal youth around the district.

“I met [Clarke] in middle school when I was in the aboriginal education program and she helped me stay in touch with my aboriginal side and was welcoming to me. [She helped me] understand my life situations [and] always encourages me to make the right decision for myself,” Hackett says.

Students not knowing why Clarke is important to not just the district but to youth do not know much about her. “Carrie is important because if you look around today the majority of people in Coquitlam are not aboriginal so having her around is a constant reminder about first peoples who were here, as well as [giving] her knowledge about first peoples to the students here,” explains Hackett.

Clarke has been giving advice and leaving constant reminders that no one is left out. “She helps students by giving advice and acting as if she was a councilor to many students, and what that says about her is that she is willing to give a helping hand to us, not judging anyone for the situation you are in and is a trustworthy person, Carrie is an overall great person to have at schools and always brightens people’s day,” said Hackett.

Clarke finalizes by explaining what she is good at and what she enjoys. “I’m a good listener, I am calm person, I love working with youth, I love the outdoors, part of being Aboriginal is being outdoors which is very important to me. I love animals, I love doing bead work and love learning my traditional regalia making and drum songs as well as learning from my own nation is something I am pursuing now.” Clarke helps people all around the school district with exploring their cultural identity or can be someone to talk to and get help with ideas, projects and go on organized trips with other students. She is upstairs in her office on Wednesdays in between room 209 and 210.