Indigenous Voices at SFU

The eagle flies the highest in the sky, and in a coast salish story people would seek guidance from the eagle to gain knowledge of faraway places. This representational eagle wing relief was created to bring the knowledge to students as they seek guidance in their studies. -- Marissa Nahanee

June is National Indigenous History month, with June 21 being National Indigenous Peoples Day. Throughout the month the Library will share the words from Indigenous students and staff on what this day means to them, their favourite Indigenous book / author, and about a project or initiative they're proud of through the Indigenous Voices at SFU series. 

Let's hear from...

Alexia McKinnon

Lexi is curious and passionate about centering and privileging Indigenous worldviews within systems change and design thinking. She is a proud citizen of the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations, from the Yukon, and works hard each day striving to become Dan Shawthan; a culturally grounded, respectful and good community member. As an alumni of the Indigenous Graduate Programs at the Beedie School of Business Lexi focuses on designing impactful and relevant learning spaces for business leaders to gain new tools and insights for achieving economic success. She is committed to uplifting Indigenous business and creating an inclusive economy so that we can all thrive together.

What does National Indigenous Peoples Day mean to you? 

 

It is about appreciating the gift and legacy of our ancestors and sharing this love with others.

 

National Indigenous People’s Day is a day to celebrate Indigenous excellence. For me, it means, being in community, often in a state of awe, witnessing amazing Indigenous peoples doing incredibly inspiring things. It is a day for family, honouring resilience, and enjoying songs, stories, dances, and ceremony in safe public spaces. It is about appreciating the gift and legacy of our ancestors and sharing this love with others. NIPD is symbolic of no longer being ashamed and trying to hide my Indigenous identity and standing strong into being a Champagne and Aishihik First Nation woman and the responsibilities I hold in relationship to my family, my Nation, and my community. NIPD is a reminder to celebrate who I am and where I come from.

 What is your favourite book and / or Indigenous author? 

We are so lucky there are so many brilliant Indigenous authors, it is hard to pick one. However, I love anything Eden Robinson writes. She captivates me. She had me at Monkey Beach and I have been a fan of hers since. I also love the company Raven Reads as they promote Indigenous authors and products. Also, please support Iron Dog Books, an Indigenous owned book store and book truck. We can consciously and mindfully choose to support Indigenous arts and business, I invite you to do so.

Do you have any words for advice for other Indigenous folks at SFU? (or incoming Indigenous students)  

 

Strive to show up as your full authentic self in all the spaces you are in. Know that you belong here.

 

The one piece of guidance I would share with incoming Indigenous students and other Indigenous folks at SFU is strive to show up as your full authentic self in all the spaces you are in. Also, know that you belong here. SFU has welcomed us and invited us into these spaces. Granted, they might not have consciously known what that means, however, we are here and lifting up incredible work for our communities and the host Nations we are in relationship to by virtue of our campus locations. Create all the space and systems you need in order for our people to thrive within SFU. We are here because we are strong enough to lift the transformation that is required. Thank those that came before us and worked so hard to create the spaces we now occupy and show up doing our best each day to create even more spaces of inclusion for those that come after us.

Tell us about a recent project/paper/presentation/initiative you are proud of?  

I am so grateful to be invited into SFU and the Beedie School of Business. I wake up each day striving to create spaces of inclusion and opportunities for community to be a part of the IBL program and to increase the presence of Indigenous excellence with in the school. In the year that I have been here, I am so happy to have been part of a team dedicated to increasing the number of Indigenous faculty, guest speakers and TAs. We also now have wisdom keepers and Elders supporting the classroom and we bring in Indigenous pedagogy to all of our classes. Most recently we were able to support bringing our students into community and delivered the MBA Indigenous Economies course from within a longhouse. This was a spectacular and very special venue to uplift this important work of understanding, envisioning and creating economic systems inclusive of Indigenous wisdom and knowledge. The cohort from students across the country enjoyed a week of being in relationship to the space, each other, community and program. I am super honoured to be lifting up spaces of transformation and belonging as well as the opportunity to create new systems inclusive of Indigenous world view.

How does your identity as an Indigenous person impact your experience at SFU?

 

I am motivated by finding spaces in which we can learn and grow together in creating stronger systems for everyone.

 

I show up each day focusing on centering and prioritizing Indigenous worldview within the current structure and system and to creating safe spaces for the IBL EMBA students to thrive within. I am motivated by finding spaces in which we can learn and grow together in creating stronger systems for everyone. I also love how each day I get the opportunity to create space for Indigenous excellence and am keenly motivated to support Indigenous business. SFU has large purchasing power and we can support the growth of the Indigenous economy if we decided to procure differently and prioritize Indigenous business.

Megan Donahue 

Megan is mixed British and Irish settler and a member of Xwisten First Nation. She is an undergraduate student in the Departments of Biology and Chemistry at SFU.  Megan is considering furthering her education within the realms of biochemistry and toxicology, in order to learn more and work towards being able to better the environment and it's relations with modern human civilizations.

Interview with Megan Donahue

 What does National Indigenous Peoples Day mean to you?  

 

It’s about acknowledging what has happened and sharing this knowledge to ensure it never happens again.

 

To me, National Indigenous Peoples Day means honouring our first nations, Inuit and Métis peoples by sharing and learning from the past. It’s about acknowledging what has happened and sharing this knowledge to ensure it never happens again.

 What is your favourite book and / or Indigenous author? 

As an avid reader of fantasy and sci-fi, I am really loving the newer Indigenous futurism genre that has become more popular recently. I love seeing the diversification of the genres that highlight the past, present, or future of Indigenous peoples in fiction. It is impossible for me to pick just one favourite, so here’s a few of my top recent reads within this genre:

Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse

Moon of the Crusted Snow by Waubgeshig Rice

Son of a Trickster by Eden Robinson

The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline

Red Spider White Web by Misha Nogha  

Do you have any words for advice for other Indigenous folks at SFU? (or incoming Indigenous students)  

My advice for any new or continuing indigenous students at SFU is to keep up with the ISC newsletters and events. I was working full time my first few years at SFU and assumed I didn’t have enough time for anything being offered. Looking back now I realize I likely missed a lot of really great opportunities, many that aren’t a huge time commitment but valuable experiences.

Tell us about a recent project/paper/presentation/initiative you are proud of?

A recent project I have been lucky enough to be a part of is working with members of the ISTLD and other students to help decolonize and indigenize STEM departments at SFU. This is an ongoing project lead by Dr. Nawal Musleh-Motut, that acts to aid STEM faculty members in their journey of decolonizing themselves and their classrooms. This is being done by cultivating a specified collection of resources of Indigenous science and pedagogy to be able to incorporate these critical ways of thinking into the curricula. These can be found on the SFU Library’s website for all to access and is encouraged to be read by everyone as the information is essential and can be applied to all areas of life and study. We are also starting a community of practice within STEM faculty for guidance and sharing ideas of decolonizing ourselves and in the classroom. For future projects, we are working on starting a website that will hold a larger collection of Indigenous science resources, where we are working closely with Ashley Edwards to develop a categorization system that is structured in a noncolonial way. All really amazing projects that I’m very excited to see grow and develop over the next coming semesters!

 How does your identity as an Indigenous person impact your experience at SFU? 

 

Although SFU has a long way to go and isn’t perfect, the new projects and increase in awareness on the matter has given me hope that one day, through the younger generations, there will be actual steps taken for reconciliation in SFU and the rest of Canada.

 

I’ve been on my own journey to learn more about my own Indigenous background throughout my time at SFU, which has made me more aware of the types of efforts being made here that encourage everyone of all backgrounds to learn more and contribute to decolonizing the educational system. Although SFU has a long way to go and isn’t perfect, the new projects and increase in awareness on the matter has given me hope that one day, through the younger generations, there will be actual steps taken for reconciliation in SFU and the rest of Canada.

Courtney Vance

Courtney is Northern Tutchone-German and a member of Selkirk First Nation. She is a graduate student in the Department of Sociology at SFU. In her graduate studies, Courtney is interested in Indigenous policy, decolonizing the city, and learning how to responsibly integrate Indigenous knowledges and communities into urban planning processes.

Interview with Courtney Vance

What is your favourite book and / or Indigenous author? 

It is so difficult to pick one, but one of my favourite Indigenous authors is Robin Wall Kimmerer (Citizen Potawatomi Nation), who wrote Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants. This book has, and continues, to alter my perceptions of the world in many many ways for the better.

Do you have any words for advice for other Indigenous folks at SFU? (or incoming Indigenous students) 

 

The work you are doing in a settler colonial institution is fraught at times, but there is strength in the effort and energy that goes into your work within the university setting.

 

Remember there are so many other Indigenous folks going through the same things you are, and no matter how isolated you may feel there is a whole community at SFU. The work you are doing in a settler colonial institution is fraught at times, but there is strength in the effort and energy that goes into your work within the university setting.

Tell us about a recent project you are proud of?  

A project I am incredibly honoured to be a part of is SFU’s Indigenous Curriculum Resource Centre’s Salish Weave Box Sets: Art & Storytelling Project which is now available on SFU Digital Collections! 

Stephanie Merinuk

Stephanie is Ojibwe on her mother's side and Sikh on her father's side. She is a member of Berens River First Nation in Manitoba however, she was raised outside of her community by Ukrainian and French Canadian parents. Stephanie is the Program Coordinator, Indigenous Graduate Programs at the Beedie School of Business and supports the program delivery and students in the Indigenous Business and Leadership EMBA program.

Interview with Stephanie Merinuk

 What does National Indigenous Peoples Day mean to you?

 

I feel extra proud of being Indigenous.

 

For someone who grew up without their culture, National Indigenous Peoples Day is significantly important to me as I am still learning about Indigenous History, my Nation and my family. It is a day to celebrate, reflect and connect with people, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous. I have really stepped into my Indigeneity over the past decade and this is a day where I feel extra proud of being Indigenous.

What is your favourite book and / or Indigenous author?

I love memoirs and books that reflect on peoples lives so a few of my favourites may seem heavy but are well worth the read if you want to understand the impacts of colonialism on Indigenous peoples in Canada. Bev Sellars They Called Me Number One: Secrets and Survival at an Indian Residential School was so heartbreaking but also so eye opening for me. As a child of the Sixties Scoop, reading Ohpikiihaakan-ohpihmeh |Raised Somewhere Else : A 60s Scoop Adoptee's Story of Coming Home by Colleen Cardinal gave me insight about the experience of other Sixties Scoopers and their path to reclaiming their identity.

Do you have any words for advice for other Indigenous folks at SFU

The school is so big but there is a huge network of support that is available to you. Ask for help, support and guidance and visit the Indigenous Student Centre if you don’t know where to start. Your journey at SFU will be amazing and so many people are there to help you succeed.

Tell us about a recent initiative you are proud of?

I am the Program Coordinator for the EMBA in Indigenous Business Leadership at the Beedie School of Business. Recently we help a Blanket Ceremony to honour our 2017 and 2018 cohorts who graduated during the pandemic. It was the first time I have been involved in ceremony and I felt so honoured and proud to have been a part of the planning and execution of this event.

 

It was the first time I have been involved in ceremony and I felt so honoured and proud to have been a part of the planning and execution of this event.

 

We were honoured to have Chief Ian Campbell from the Squamish Nation, who is also an EMBA IBL alumni, host and lead the ceremony and it was a day filled with joy, beauty and celebration. For me, that is what this job is all about, bringing joy, finding the beauty in our students and celebrating their journey from start to finish.

How does your identity as an Indigenous person impact your experience at SFU?

I am still on my journey of learning, connecting and embracing my Indigeneity. I feel so lucky to be working in the EMBA IBL Program and connecting with other students, staff, instructors and communities. It is truly a gift to be Indigenous and SFU understands this gift and is working hard to ensure that Indigenous students, staff and faculty feel welcome, supported and uplifted.

Julie Seal

Julie is a Cree-Métis and Italian student who is graduating with a Bachelor of Arts with minors in Kinesiology and Indigenous Studies. Graduating at 32 years old, Julie wants to tell all students that if she can finish a degree after the life she has led, anyone can do it.

Interview with Julie Seal

What does National Indigenous Peoples Day mean to you?

For the longest time the Indigenous side of me was kind of hidden from everybody because it was considered shameful. My grandfather's grandma was Cree and she spoke Cree. And, anytime anyone would even mention the word “Indian,” she would shut down and so she lost her language, and that resulted in my grandfather losing the language and everybody losing it. And now that I'm figuring all this stuff out, I am pretty upset that I didn't get to learn this language and learn about my culture due to colonialism. So, the fact that we're finally recognizing it is huge for me because I would really love to learn my language, and now there are options to do that. And it's kind of celebrated, which is great. Like a complete 180. So, yeah, recognition is a big thing.

 

It's kind of celebrated, which is great. ... recognition is a big thing.

 

What's your favourite book and/or Indigenous author?

Okay, for Indigenous author, I love Cherie Demaline. She wrote that book about the Rougarou, Empire of Wild. She's great because I love watching her interviews, too. She's so genuine, and she only has a grade 10 education and she's like, super smart. It goes to show that you don't have to have this colonial education in order to be successful.

I also just finished reading 11/22/63 by Stephen King (who is not an Indigenous author). It’s about time travel to prevent the Kennedy assassination, and it’s really good because it's not a typical horror novel and it's more like romance. I cried at the end, like a big baby.

Do you have any words of advice for other Indigenous folks at SFU or incoming Indigenous students?

The biggest thing is to go utilize the Indigenous Student Centre. It was huge for me; I don't know what I would have done without it, just having that community there and that support. When I first started going to SFU, I felt a deer in the headlights, and I didn’t even know where to go and luckily, Rebecca Sangwais (Student Life Coordinator with the ISC) emailed me and I am so grateful for that because I really didn't even know where to start. So, her advice was very helpful. And the Indigenous Student Centre has tons of cultural connection workshops and that's how I made friends. Just go and talk to people. I know that a lot of kids are shy. I'm obviously not, but it helps to just go say hi to somebody, and introduce yourself.

Oh, and utilize the Library drop in hour at the ISC, too!

Tell us about a recent project or initiative that you're proud of.

Okay, I've got the two.

I ran Fit Nation for eight weeks through the Indigenous Student Centre -- in person on campus and over Zoom. We didn't get like a lot of sign-ups, but that is due to me not knowing about marketing. And that's okay. But for the few people who did attend, it really made a huge difference. And so I'm continuing it, and I'm hoping people will still want to join. It's basically a fitness thing, so just go out and sweat for an hour! I did it right before my last final exam, and at first I was like, “you know what? I'm just going to cancel this session because I need time to study.” But it was so much better that I did it because I sweated out that nervousness and was able to pass my exam.

The second one is the Special Olympics home workout program that I did in the summer of 2021. That was purely due to SFU because they had a Community Engagement award competition. You make your own program and engage members of the community, and that was what I did and I'm hoping to run it again over the summer. I highly encourage anybody who has an idea for any community initiative to try out for that award, because it really made a huge difference in the lives of that particular community, and if there's something you can think that would help the students, do it!

How does your identity as an Indigenous person impact your experience at SFU?

Well, when I first started going, I honestly was like, “Well, what does it matter ?” I didn't really think too much of it until I got to the university. And then, once I got there I was like, “oh wow, there's this huge community here that I can be a part of and it felt very welcoming.” Without that community, I would have struggled more.

Because I'm doing Indigenous Studies, I got to know the instructors there and it helped me to realize that the whole “memorize regurgitate” model is not the be all and end all. I think that's so important because one of my classes I took this semester, that's all it was. And I don't think I remember any of it, whereas in the Indigenous classes that I took, we did some hands-on projects and research that really impacted me and those are things that I can use for my career.

I don't know where I'm going to have to learn how to memorize a bunch of random facts. I believe that was back before we had Google. It was a useful skill, it's just not anymore.

 

And the instructor was so kind and actually was receptive and gave us options for other readings and... she learned from us as well.... It made me feel like I could actually succeed.

 

One of the best learning experiences I had as an Indigenous student was when I was taking a course on policy, and they did a lecture on Métis Peoples. And I was like, “this is going to be awesome.” And so, the professor had provided the readings ahead of time. And when I read them with another student we were like, “This is not right. This is not a good reading to get a good background.” And so I reached out to the instructor and was like, “hey, we [me and my friend Jon] just wanted to bring up that this reading does not reflect who we are as Métis people.” And the instructor was so kind and actually was receptive and gave us options for other readings and said “we’re not utilizing those.” Like, she learned from us as well. I just can't imagine doing that in one of my kinesiology classes, but it made me feel like I could actually succeed. Whereas when I went to university the first time it was for a biology, physics, chemistry, calculus, all that, and I just felt so dumb. And I know I'm not. I know I’m not, but I didn't feel like I could succeed, whereas as an Indigenous person at SFU, I have all that support through the Indigenous Student Centre, and it really makes me feel like I’m smart.

 

Date(s)
Throughout June