Shortly before Kayla Coutlee crossed the convocation stage, White Buffalo Aboriginal and Metis Health Society offered her the position of Aboriginal Child and Youth Wellness Coordinator.
The Bachelor of Social Work graduate said, “the practicum was such a valuable experience, allowing me to apply classroom knowledge in real time. To follow that work immediately with this role is incredible. The learning is ongoing. It’s a non-stop education in the professional world.”
Originally from the Upper Nicola Indian Band in Quilchena, Kayla said, “The Indigenous community needs support—and I wanted to offer that support as a social worker.”
Joanne Brown, Supervisor of Services for Aboriginal Students, said, “Kayla is an up-and-coming leader, always going above and beyond to serve others. She’s such a piston, a sparkplug—a strong Indigenous woman holistically putting things into place.”
Kayla’s path to academic success has been a rocky road. Shortly before the fall semester started in 2014, Kayla’s father unexpectedly passed away. Following the funeral service, a relative asked, “Will you still be attending school?”
“Of course I am,” Kayla responded.
Despite her anguish, Kayla was committed to continuing her education. Mere weeks after the funeral service, her emotions were raw and ragged when the first day of classes commenced. However, upon arrival at Cplul’kw’ten—the campus based Aboriginal centre—Kayla recalled how the staff approached and embraced her “with so much love, support and condolences.”
“After my father’s passing, my educational pursuits felt more challenging than ever, but I was 100% more determined to graduate. Cplul’kw’ten helped me every step of the way.”
Through Cplul’kw’ten, Kayla was able to heal and persevere in both traditional and Western ways. “I had regular counseling sessions and had smudging rituals. I came to think of the grieving process as a growing process.”
Now Kayla applies her experiences with loss and recovery to the social work field. “You don’t know how strong you are until being strong is the only option. I want others to know that you can get through traumatic times, and we can move forward together.”
As for implementing self-care in a profession rife with triggers and traumas, it is all about getting back to one’s roots. “When I need to regroup or recharge, I go home—which grounds me on every level. After visiting with family and friends, and connecting with nature, I’m ready to take on whatever life throws at me.”
While her schedule didn’t allow her time to be a mentor at Cplul’kw’ten, she was still thought of as an “unofficial mentor.” Her drive to support and encourage others was appreciated at Cplul’kw’ten.
Her desire to be a solid role model is inspired by multiple generations. Kayla credits her mother as being her role model and her younger sister as her inspiration to be a mentor. “There are stereotypes that are so damaging, and I want to resist against those harmful labels and impressions. Leading by example is essential, and it’s important to younger generations.”
While mental health issues regarding children and youth are not exclusive to Indigenous communities, there is a unique set of concerns.
“Due to the leftover effects of colonization, social workers are needed in Indigenous communities as a way to help make sense of the world. To have a social worker of Kayla’s caliber coming into that profession with an Aboriginal lens is imperative,” Joanne remarked.
Kayla wants to offer a holistic approach that helps connect mental, physical, emotional and spiritual wellness that will foster and facilitate a positive change. Through one-to-one sessions and group workshops that tackle everything from anxiety to self-esteem to suicide, Kayla said, “Progress from that work will hopefully cause a ripple effect that reaches the youthful demographic and beyond.”
For more information about Cplul’kw’ten, please refer to the website.