First Nation & Post-Secondary Education: My Experience

Today, I attend the University of Western Ontario. I am a first year student. I try my best to stay involved–maintain my social life and maintain my grades.

There are many things that I have overcome since my entry into this university. I feel very blessed to be at this university. Someone told me that they didn’t get in on the first time they applied. I got in, first try. I am not telling you this because I want to wave it around and brag about it in front of your face. I share this because I am proud of this.

Before going to university, I did three years of college. I excelled at college. I worked hard for A-level grades and tutored fellow peers. I wish I was more involved though with the rest of the student body.

I am very thankful that I am allowed to study at this university. I am very thankful for the funding that I receive. However, I also work part-time to help pay the bills/rent. I also receive a lot of help as a student with a learning disability. This disability isn’t necessarily a “learning disability,” it is an acquired disability. I have an acquired brain injury. I am thankful to be a survivor. You can read about this more in my Acquired Brain Injury post.

From both college and university, I am most thankful for the First Nation services and assistance that both institutions provided. Without these resources, I would feel lost. By lost, I don’t mean that I wouldn’t know where to find a building on campus. What I mean by lost has a more deeper meaning.

The issues that First Nations and their First Nations students face when going to school are very complex. In my experience, it is somewhat of a culture shock. Nobody tells you what to expect. Nobody tells you that the things you might hear people say, may make you angry, or may make you cry and that nobody will understand why hearing those things make you angry or cry. Nobody tells you that it’s okay to share your knowledge. Nobody tells you that it’s okay to stand up for yourself (but that you have to do it with tact and class). Nobody tells you that it’s okay to ask questions and that it’s okay to not know everything about being Native.

At the university I go to, I was told that it’s not my duty to know everything about being Native. I was told that I can ask questions at anytime and if they didn’t have the answer, they would help me find the answer. I was told that I only have to educate others on what I know, and that I would be supported in this.

It is the counseling I receive from First Nations services, from people who know and understand the issues that First Nations and First Nations students face, that helps me to be successful. It is this understanding from First Nations services, that helps me to not feel so lost. This is why I feel valued. It is these people and the services that this center provides that helps me to be successful.

Why I hang my high school diploma on my wall.

On my wall there are few things. Pictures a friend who recently passed away had taken for me. Pictures of my family. Pictures of an artistic nature. I even have some of my awards that I won hanging on my wall. Two of the items hanging on my wall that I am most proud of though are my college school diploma and my high school diploma.

Someone once laughed and asked me, “Why the hell do you have your high school diploma on your wall?”

My reply to them was this, “I am proud to have my high school diploma. As an Aboriginal youth, this is a great accomplishment–I know some Aboriginal youth who don’t even have their grade 10. I am proud to have it.”

It sort of represents how much I value education and how much I want to see other Aboriginal youth earn their high school diploma. I am a huge supporter of making education available for anyone. What is sad is that even though there are initiatives out there to support Aboriginal youth to continue with their high school education, some of them never do. I want to see that trend change… one day.


On my campus there is a Blue Chair Campaign.

This campaign I fully support and appreciate.

Unfortunately, because of this campaign I am reminded of the issues that Aboriginals face regarding education (which the campaign strives to bring attention to as mentioned on their site).

One of the misconceptions that people have about Aboriginals and education is that “we get everything for free.” No. It’s not like that. For my reservation, it works like a scholarship, and we can only take education in a forward fashion (meaning I can’t go to university and then decide to go to college). Some reservations, don’t even receive adequate funding to help with post-secondary pursuits. So, no, education is not free.

This also reminds me of the fact that many other young Aboriginals do not even have access to high school education IN CANADA! At my high school every year, there were a group of Aboriginal students that were “shipped down” from their reserve to attend high school in a “urbanized centre.” My hometown isn’t all that big, but to go from a town of only a few hundred, surrounded by your family since birth and then “shipped” to another region by a train and/or a plane ride away can be quite traumatizing (culture shock) for some. This is what goes on in Canada for Aboriginal students at the high-school level. They don’t even have access to high school education in their community. They have to live with a strange family in a strange community for four years, and some only for one year because they never return after the first. So, no, Aboriginals don’t get education for free.

This also reminds me of the stories I would hear when I was younger about northern community schools lacking heating and water systems. Some of these schools had to be shut down for a periods of time because of the lack of safety for students in the community (gas leaks, bad/leaky roof tops, no heat). This makes me sad when I think about this. Those children experienced elementary education with enough interruptions to cause delays in learning/education. So, no, Aboriginals don’t get everything for free.

I hope that when people see this blue chair campaign that it is not just post-secondary education that can’t be accessed in Canada. For some it was high school. For others it was a warm elementary school.


Lately I have been reading about education and Aboriginals in one of my textbooks.

It caused me to reflect on my education experiences. If it weren’t for my family who have been there for me no matter what, and to help push me through, I don’t think I would have done all the great things I have done in my life.

However, this is not what this post is about. Yes, I did excel in school. I graduated top three in elementary school. In high school (even after a really bad car accident where I sustained an Acquired Brain Injury), I even graduated on the honor roll, received a scholarship upon graduation, and won four business awards. But this is not what this is about. It is about the fact that even though, I did do well in school, there was a lack of support for me and other similar students. What I mean by other similar students is other Aboriginal students who excelled.

I remembered being teased sometimes for being too smart or getting good grades. When I look back, it all means nothing today. I remember those around me who excelled as well, they also were teased (whether they were Aboriginal or not).

It amazes me how little support there is for Young Aboriginal people who excel in school. My teachers throughout elementary school consistently would approach their students as they would approach “bad kids.” Because as one supply teacher put it, upon her first day of supplying for us for the rest of the school year, “Don’t think that I don’t know what your reputation is.” I was the only student that asked, “What is our reputation, because even we don’t know what it is.” I wasn’t a “bad kid,” but I did stand up for myself and others. The teacher that day didn’t answer but told me to go to the office. I went. It wouldn’t be the first time I was sent to the office for asking why the teacher said something or what the teacher actually meant when she said we were “just a bunch of dumb cows.”

This may come as surprising to people who read this, but in the school I went to it doesn’t surprise me looking back. We were at a school with the majority of the population being Aboriginal (sad even for me to say that). So, I really do wonder what the school is like today? Is it still the same, population wise? Reputation wise? Teacher wise? I plan to go back one day and influence the young people, Aboriginal or not, but to tell them that if you work hard (yes, school does kind of suck sometimes) and if you don’t let all the teasing (yes, it will be hard) get to you, it does get better. And really, the teasing and the name calling (even though hard to endure at such a young age and sometimes all alone), it doesn’t matter when you’re older. When you work hard, study, and apply yourself 100% to everything you do, that is what matters.

Education? Really…

I am currently reading and doing some necessary catching up in some of my classes right now before the next semester starts. The last chapter I was required to read from one of my texts consists of a journal article entitled “Teaching Challenges in Higher Education” by Anton L. Allahar (this article led to the writing of this blog). Nevertheless, my catching up right now: not the most ideal position because I would much rather be relaxing. However, this past year has proven to be a very hard walk uphill for me. Not that I deserve a break, but I worked very hard.

This year I graduated from a law clerk program; co op endorsed. I chose to go to university because of the level of success I had in college. The two are completely different. In class size, class content, and expectations from you as a student.

First year at the university is not very ideal for anyone. There are large classrooms, possibly packed to the max. Sometimes classes use what is called a “clicker.” So as the number of students in a class goes up, I believe that the quality of classroom interaction has gone down. I think classroom interaction is essential to quality education. It creates debate, discussion, and allows other individuals to see what others can possibly be thinking or how others are even interpreting the data. I guess today the debate and discussion occurs online in message boards and interactive live chat rooms during lecture times.

I am also noticing that more and more people are choosing a higher education not just at an undergrad level but at a graduate/post graduate/PhD level. I am meeting more and more people who are interested in obtaining their masters or are currently in their masters level of education. This makes me wonder “What will be the value of my degree by the time I graduate?” Should I have even applied to this program and ensued in four years of university education, to only by the end of it realize that my undergraduate studies are worth next to nothing unless I earn a “masters”? Sometimes I debate on a daily basis with myself, was I wrong or right to not go into the work force?

Even with thinking about the work force, the quality of jobs out there for my generation has gone down. There are more and more contract jobs (what good is a job to only stress about if you might have it or not when your contract period ends) and only people being hired for certain time periods for certain tasks (not being hired long term, I think, is a growing trend). More businesses are only hiring people who are experts at one thing–just look at law firms today. In the past, lawyers could practically defend anyone or represent various cases in court. Now, you have to contact the right lawyer for the right situation. Whatever happened to being “general?” Is “general” too boring? Is “general,” not the right fit for society today? This trend of specialities and “experts” can be seen even in the most simplest settings: Wal-mart. If you go in any Wal-Mart today, and you need help finding something or have a question about something, you best hope that you get an employee that is in their appropriate section. If you just ask an employee passing by, the only answer you will get is “I’m sorry this isn’t my section, but I will page someone to come help you.” You may be left waiting forever for that person to come, and left wondering “how does the person coming know which person needs help in the section I am in now when there are several other people beside me?” More likely than not, your page goes unanswered.

The heavy reliance on people with specific knowledge is where our society is left divided. Education creates this difference. For some, quality education is only available to those who can afford it and only those who qualify (re: scholarships, grants). If education was made equal and available to everyone, what would be the outcome on that? If the level of education that is required by more and more jobs, continues to rise, will we all become scholars or experts? If not, then why are we even bothering with education at all?

What good is education when the it continues to divide society?