When I started my university career, there was a lot of fear from traditional families in my community that a Western education would negatively change a person’s role and responsibility to their family and community. I had mixed feelings about going to university, because my community is important to me, but I felt it was important to have an education in this modern world. What became clear to me was that I wanted to play a role in improving health and well-being in my community.
I am currently pursuing a PhD in community psychology, where my research will contribute to a national project examining the consultation process of “free, prior, and informed consent” of resource extractive industries in the hope of fostering improved, meaningful engagement of Indigenous communities in decisions about economic development on their ancestral territories.
One of the biggest challenges Aboriginal students face is moving away from their home community. However, in recent years, postsecondary institutions have invested in creating more welcoming spaces for Aboriginal students – students increasingly feel like they have a home away from home, which builds an environment that supports greater student achievement.
Balancing between these 2 worlds is difficult, but I have found opportunities to bring Indigenous knowledge into the classroom, and what has been so rewarding for me is that non-Aboriginal students and faculty have welcomed this knowledge. It makes me feel as though I have a place and I belong here.
The word I would use to describe my university experience is “Seniyohgwae:hode”. It is a word we’ve come to use to describe our way of life, our civilization; it loosely translates into “we live our lives through our teachings”. I have had to walk between 2 worlds to bring my Indigenous knowledge forward to the benefit of the Western academy, which has made the journey worth it.