Let’s take our future further.

Aboriginal learners are telling their stories, and we’re celebrating their achievements. Scroll down to hear 13 of their stories.

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Let’s Take Our Future Further

There are over 6,500 Aboriginal learners studying at Ontario universities and thousands of Aboriginal alumni. Standing strong on the shoulders of those who have come before them, today’s learners are blazing their own trails of achievement. We have the opportunity to support and accelerate this momentum – to take our future in inspiring directions. Aboriginal learners are telling their stories, and we’re celebrating their achievements.
As the number of Aboriginal learners continues to grow, so too does the volume and richness of their stories.  Through this initiative, Ontario’s 20 publicly funded universities are promoting awareness of the achievements of these learners and how they are making a difference in communities across Ontario – and indeed, Canada. The campaign also seeks to improve Aboriginal learner attraction, retention and completion at Ontario universities by demonstrating the holistic benefits of a university education, and promoting a positive view of postsecondary education within Aboriginal communities.
Each of the stories that we have highlighted is unique and, at the same time, universal.  While their experiences are different, all of our role models have overcome some sort of adversity to achieve their goals, from family responsibilities, to financial challenges, to self-doubt.  And, they have all remained steadfast on their path and found a way to build a bridge between two cultures, weaving a piece of themselves into the fabric of both places.
Below are thirteen profiles of Aboriginal learners from across Ontario who have all defined their view of success on their own terms – shaping not only their future, but also the future of generations of Aboriginal learners to come.

Kelly’s Journey

“It takes courage to take a chance on yourself.”

I grew up in Porcupine, Ontario, which is a northern community that is still struggling to improve inclusivity for Aboriginal Peoples. Growing up, I felt that if I told my classmates that I am Métis, my accomplishments would not be accepted at face value because there would be a perception that I was treated differently because of my Métis heritage. Despite my mother’s attempts to get me involved in the Métis community, it was not until I moved away for university that I found my voice as a Métis woman.

As a student, I found a welcoming home at the Aboriginal Student Centre on our campus. Being surrounded by other students who were so in touch with their culture helped me to quickly realize how unfortunate and sad it was that I had not been proud of my Métis ancestry growing up. It gave me the confidence to get involved in a number of activities and to seek teachings from Elders.

After completing my undergraduate degree, I went on to graduate from law school in 2014 and now work full-time at TD Bank as the Assistant Manager of External Legal Services. At TD, I am encouraged to celebrate my Métis ancestry, which I really appreciate. Sharing my personal narrative about how I became connected with my ancestry is always difficult, partly because I am uncomfortable being vulnerable, but mostly because I regret being so worried about how others would perceive me. Today, I’m very proud to be involved in the Métis Nation of Ontario and the Aboriginal legal community. We need more Indigenous people in positions of authority in politics, law, business, science, and medicine to ensure that the Indigenous perspective can be heard. Aboriginal learners need to ask themselves, “why not me”?

It takes courage to take a chance on yourself.

Click here to download Kelly’s poster.

Brandon’s journey

 

“Be better than you ever thought you can be”

When I graduated high school, my options were either to continue my studies or to find a job. I had to really buckle down to find out what I truly wanted in life. I chose to attend college first and then university and I have never regretted my choice. My success at college gave me the confidence to pursue a degree in First Nations Studies. Following graduation I plan on pursuing a Bachelor of Education so I can teach youth about Aboriginal peoples’ histories, cultures, and languages.

Both college and university brought some pretty tough moments for me, including switching programs from Kinesiology to First Nations Studies at university. However, I thought of what my mom taught me, to always keep going no matter what, and this advice carried me through the hard times. When it feels too difficult to push forward, I always remind myself to “bite the bullet,” and then I renew my efforts. At one point or another in our lives, we’re going to fail at something, but that is also when we learn the most. And, the more risks you take, the more chances you will have to succeed. The best piece of advice I’ve had is to simply persevere.

Don’t believe you have to better than everybody else. You just have to be better than you ever thought you could be.

Click here to download Brandon’s poster.

Sheila’s journey

 

“Despite the challenges, you can succeed.”

When I was young, I felt that, like other children who are Aboriginal, I couldn’t succeed. There were signs all around me suggesting that Aboriginal people didn’t finish school or move on to postsecondary education. I will never forget early memories of travelling to school on the bus where my brothers and I faced extreme forms of racism and bullying. These experiences instilled in me a deep desire to succeed.

Until I was 13 years old, I was always uncertain about school, never really feeling like I fit in or that I was very smart. Then, in grade eight, I had a teacher who instilled in me a belief that I could achieve much more academically. It was because of him that I decided to take the advanced program in high school to prepare myself for university.

I have always wanted to make changes in the postsecondary community so that schools are better and more welcoming places for Aboriginal learners. I completed my PhD in 2010 and my educational journey has given me the confidence, skills, knowledge, and ability to give back to the Aboriginal community at our universities in a very meaningful way. Today, as Associate Vice President, Academic and Indigenous Programs at Laurentian University, I have helped to bring a strong Indigenous perspective and some important changes to our institution.

Be persistent and committed to your life goals. Despite the challenges, you can succeed. Look for people who can support you and don’t be afraid to lean on others from time to time.

Click here to download Sheila’s poster.

Haven’s journey

 

“A degree speaks to the strength of your character.”

I’ve always felt that learning and education are an important part of life. However, between making bad decisions and dealing with issues related to anger and depression, I’ve faced a tough journey and was almost kicked out of school.

My parents have always wanted me to make every effort to get as far as I can in life. As a child I was expected to complete some sort of postsecondary education, whether it be college, university or an apprenticeship. I have now graduated with a degree in Civil Engineering. Community was an integral part of my university experience and success – professors, staff, and recruiters all helped to get me where I am today. They gave me the support that I needed to push through everything, to keep my head up and my mind on track. This is why I’m currently working with Indigenous youth to get them interested in engineering.

To me, graduating is not only about getting an education – it’s a symbol of hard work and perseverance. Attending university is not easy, and completing a degree demonstrates dedication and speaks to the strength of your character.

Click here to download Haven’s poster.

Raigelee’s journey

 

“Be a role model to future generations.”

I was a late starter in going to university. As a mature student and grandmother, it was really tough. I was overwhelmed by the workload because I didn’t know how to write essays or reports when I arrived on campus. I suddenly had to study hard and read a lot of books, which was not something that I was used to.

There was a learning curve, but I stuck with it. I also had help from a student counsellor, who really motivated me over the years. I’m proud to say that I have now graduated and earned my Honours Bachelor of Arts in Aboriginal Studies. My original plan was to move back to Nunavut and work as an educator, but instead I stayed south and currently teach private Inuktitut lessons and work as an Inuktitut translator. I also plan on going back to school to get a Master’s of Education.

I have always tried to be a role model to my children in every way and encourage them to follow my footsteps. But it is time that my grandchildren take these steps and be the future of the new generation. It’s important for me that my children and grandchildren can live their dreams.

Down the road, your children and grandchildren will want to achieve what you have achieved – be a role model.

Click here to download Raigelee’s poster.

Elizabeth’s journey

 

“Success lies in the willingness to welcome change.”

Leaving home in Timmins to live in a city with very few familiar faces was one of the hardest obstacles I have faced when I started my Kinesiology undergraduate degree. At times it could be lonely as most of my peers lived within a couple of hours from campus and would go home on weekends while I stayed behind.

However, my thirst for knowledge, which led me to apply to university, has helped me to stare down my fear of change. I had always known that I wanted to pursue further education, but I had no idea that I would eventually end up enrolling in a graduate program and being passionate about a subject that I hadn’t even known existed. My Master’s thesis focuses on investigating the midsole material of footwear to possibly increase older adults’ balance for those at risk of falling.

While I was once nervous about living away from home, I now enjoy living in Waterloo where I have created a sense of community and way of life for myself. The Aboriginal Student Centre on my campus is definitely my second home – I have established life-long friendships and its welcoming environment has had a significantly positive influence on my quality of life.

Explore your new environment! Make new friends and enjoy your new way of life. Success lies in the willingness to welcome change.

Click here to download Elizabeth’s poster.

Lillian’s journey

 

“University has helped me believe in myself.”

As a child, my self-esteem and self-worth were extremely low and I did not believe that I was intelligent enough to succeed in university. My first attempt at university was right after high school, but my drinking and self-destructive behavior took control and I quit after two months. After years of therapy and successful employment I decided it was time to pursue my dream of obtaining a university degree. When I reapplied to university 24 years later, I was fearful and uncertain of my acceptance. To my amazement I was accepted and I was overjoyed!

My childhood was extremely traumatic and school was a safe haven for me. I loved being there. It was a place where I could forget about my troubles and I loved learning new ideas. It was this love of learning and my dream of becoming all that I was meant to be that brought me back to education. Being a single mother, I knew that it was imperative that I be a positive role model for my son.

I am currently in my final semester of a four year Political Science degree. It is my dream to one day represent my community, Moose Factory, or the First Nations community as a whole, in the legal or educational profession.

The impact that university has had on me has been wonderful in so many ways – from helping me to believe in myself more to the pure enjoyment of all that I am learning.

I cannot describe the joy and excitement that I feel knowing I will be graduating this year. To know that I was able to do so after so many years, and so many failures, makes it extremely gratifying.

Click here to download Lillian’s poster.

Amy’s journey

 

“Pursue your passion in life and transform your future.”

I chose to attend university because I want my son to have a positive role model in his life. I am the sole provider for us both and he is my driving force. On the sleepless nights and days I’ve cried, I have looked at my son and realize that I’m doing this for him.

I didn’t have big aspirations in high school and it wasn’t until my third year of university when I met the Honourable Justice Murray Sinclair that this really changed. He suggested that I pursue a Master’s degree. I suddenly saw my academic career differently and I applied to do a Master’s of Indigenous Relations program. I knew it was the right path for me. I am currently studying how Ontario’s health care system integrates important Aboriginal cultural practices into its protocols for care.

Postsecondary education has had a huge impact on my life – it is where my healing journey began. It helped me to find my identity, cultural teachings, and a connection to my language. It has also given me a great support system that has allowed me to teach my child about the traditional Anishinaabe way of life.

Pursue your passion in life and transform your future – if you don’t go after what you want, you’ll never have it.

Click here to download Amy’s poster.

Chris’s journey

 

“With each challenge I learn more about who I am and what I’m capable of.”

At six years old I was diagnosed with Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis (JRA) and by the time I reached high school, I realized that this diagnosis would prevent me from being a police officer – a career that I had dreamed about from a young age. I was also diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), which created additional obstacles for me – I had to learn techniques to help myself focus, which often proved challenging in a school setting.

As a result, I changed course and set about finding a new passion. In high school, I had a strong interest in law and psychology, so I decided to pursue these interests during my university studies. Members of my family have a history of mood disorders and psychological conditions. My education has made it easier for me to understand and reach out to them – it has helped me learn how to be there for the ones that I love.

I am proud to say that in June 2015, I graduated with a degree in Forensic Psychology with a minor in Legal Studies. I am now employed as an Aboriginal Youth Addictions & Mental Health Worker with the Oshawa Community Health Centre and I hope to one day return to school to pursue a Master’s degree in Applied Clinical Psychology.

I’ve learned that with persistence and hard work, no challenge is too big to overcome. With each challenge I face, I learn a little bit more about who I am and what I’m capable of.

Click here to download Chris’ poster.

Joshua’s journey

 

“I have a chance to drive change and help my people.”

I always knew that I wanted to attend university. The most difficult challenge I’ve faced in pursuing this dream was moving seven hours away from my parents, particularly my father, who wasn’t well.

People in my community are very encouraging to me when I am home. They motivate me to stick with my studies and to be successful. Attending university has given me a strong sense of pride, self-respect, and self-esteem and I am looking forward to continuing my education journey.

I am currently pursuing my Master’s in Cultural Anthropology and I am studying ways to integrate traditional Aboriginal approaches to education into modern day curriculum. Once this work is completed, I would like to attend teachers college or to pursue a PhD. My ultimate goal is to work as a historical researcher.

Graduating from university means I have a chance to help my people and drive change.

Click here to download Josh’s poster.

Isaac’s journey

 

“There are always opportunities to gain new skills and grow as a person.”

As a native boy who, for the most part, looked like a non-native, I spent my youth trying to reconcile my ancestry with the western society in which I lived. I struggled to find an identity amongst my peers and family.

Throughout my childhood, my parents stressed the importance of academic achievement. As early as elementary school, I thought about becoming a doctor. Following high school, their teachings continued to motivate me and I decided to go to university, eventually obtaining my Bachelor of Science degree. The support and funding that I received from my Band, Curve Lake First Nation, has also been important to my success.

I am currently studying Biological Science. Once I graduate, I’d like to attend medical school in my hometown of Ottawa. I plan to use my medical degree to work with Health Canada on public policy issues in the area of First Nations health and wellness. Another one of my goals is to serve as a good role model for my friends and family, and pursuing higher education has helped me to realize this objective.

University is about “growth.” Whether it’s learning from a professor who presents a topic in a new way or trying a new sport like inner-tube water polo, there are always opportunities to try new things, gain new skills, and grow as a person.

Click here to download Isaac’s profile.

Darren’s journey

 

“We live our lives through our teachings.”

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 two 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 two worlds to bring my Indigenous knowledge forward to the benefit of the western academy, which has made the journey worth it.

Click here to download Darren’s poster.

Donna’s journey

 

“You have the power to create the change you want to see.”

When I arrived at university for the first time, I was challenged with learning how to live on my own, away from my family. But I found a new family and community among the friends that I met. The Aboriginal Student Centre on campus played a particularly big role in this. It was there that I began to understand the unique challenges Aboriginal peoples face, especially when it comes to pursuing postsecondary education.

After completing my undergraduate degree, I went to medical school and am now doing my residency in cardiac surgery. I am the first female Inuit cardiac surgeon.

I feel very fortunate that I’ve received a great deal of encouragement from my family in pursuing my goals. Their support and the support of my new family at school have allowed me to take chances and to experience a huge amount of personal growth. I have met so many great people and learned so much. These are things I would have missed out on if I had chosen to stay at home and to take a more comfortable road.

You can create change. Whether it’s in your new community at university or taking that knowledge and bringing it back to your home community, you have the power to create the change you want to see.

Click here to download Donna’s poster.

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