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Water safety and representation with Justice Vandale-Niccolls

Justice Vandale-Niccolls is the Alberta Coordinator of the Indigenous Swimming and Water Safety Program for the Canadian Red Cross. Growing up between Saskatoon and Meadow Lake, her childhood was filled with swimming lessons and sunny afternoons splashing in Saskatchewan’s beautiful lakes. Now she is a fourth-year student at the University of Alberta in Edmonton.
 
Red Cross Talks discussed Justice’s passions for swimming and water safety, her job and career goals.
 
head and shoulders photo of Justice wearing a grey Red Cross polo shirt

Red Cross Talks: Tell me about your job with the Indigenous Swimming and Water Safety Program at Red Cross. What does a coordinator do?
 
Justice: My main job is to coordinate the staff and instructors. And through working with the communities and seeing what courses they’re interested in, I set up dates and times, and then I send my instructors to the communities to offer those courses. This year has been a little bit different, because we’re doing it virtually, but it’s the same idea.
 
Red Cross Talks: What’s your favourite part of the job?
 
Justice: Swimming lessons are definitely my favourite part and seeing how much benefit these courses are bringing, especially to communities that have had tragedies or a history of drownings.
 
Just seeing the kids light up with their new-found skills and leadership … I love it, it’s great.
 
Red Cross Talks: I understand that you identify as Métis. Why do you think it’s important to have Indigenous staff involved these programs?
 
Justice: Representation is definitely important; it creates that connection and cultural safety. If they see another Indigenous person, a guard drops down because they understand where you’re coming from and they know the world that you live in as an Indigenous person. It instantly gets your foot in the door, and that connection is really important.
 
Red Cross Talks: What are you studying at university?
 
Justice: I was originally in a Native Studies / Education program, but I just switched. I would love to be a Cree Major, but because of the way the university works I’m doing a Native Studies Major with a Linguistics Minor.
 
Red Cross Talks: How does the fact that you speak some Cree help you in your job?
 
Justice: Because I’m very white-passing, the kids are like, “Wait, you speak Cree?” And I say, “Yes.” So, then we’ll talk about animals or simple things and they’ll say, “I know that!”, and it creates that personability and connection with them that’s nice. It’s been an asset.
 
Red Cross Talks: What do you hope to do after you’ve finished university?
 
Justice: My goal is language revitalization and helping teach Cree and keeping the language alive, and if not that, just general community work because giving back to the community is important. I’d like to work in some aspect of community resilience, self-governance and stuff like that. A lot of my job is doing just that, so I think it will definitely help me down the road.
 
Find more information on how the Indigenous Swimming and Water Safety Program was adapted this summer for COVID-19 here.

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