2017 ASA Student Stories

Aboriginal Student Affairs (ASA) is reaching out to recent alumni and current students to provide advice to new and current students at UBC. Check back on this page to learn tips on how to find community on campus, how students overcame challenges during their degree programs, and what kinds of opportunities students should consider taking advantage of while at UBC.

Sage Vanier
comes from the Kitsumkalum Band and recently graduated in May 2017 from UBC with a major in Archaeology. Last year Winter, she participated in the Aboriginal Undergraduate Student Research Mentorship. Read on to learn more about Sage and what the mentorship was like!

Can you tell me what you studied at UBC and how did you decide on this discipline as your major?

I was a Classical Studies major, studying the Archaeology of Greece, Rome, and the Near East; however near the end of my studies I began to focus more on the First Nations archaeology of British Columbia. I have wanted to be an archaeologist for as long as I can remember, and so I was very excited to study it at UBC.

Could you explain what the Aboriginal Undergraduate Student Research Mentorship project is and how you got involved?

The program is designed to match up Aboriginal students from all disciplines with professors at the university who act as mentors. In most cases, the students help their mentor undertake research projects. It really gives undergraduates an opportunity to experience firsthand what the world of academia entails. I got involved with the program through an email from the school advertising it.

Awesome! Could you tell me more about the project you’re working on?

The project I am working on with Dr. Andrew Martindale involves tracing the history of 19th century Lax Kw’alaams (Port Simpson) in Northern British Columbia. Right now we are collecting data of significant events that happened at the site during this period so that later this summer, we can compare them with old photographs and maps in an attempt to discover any significant trends in settlement patterns, etc.

I have been helping collect data from articles at this point, but eventually we will move onto GIS mapping, and eventually writing the publication, on which I will get a credit.

What was your biggest take away from this project?

As the project I am helping with is still ongoing, my biggest take away is definitely the networking opportunities it provided me. My mentor has introduced me to many important people in the world of BC archaeology and has provided me with a number of exceptional opportunities to grow as a scholar and a professional.

Would you recommend this project for other students? If so, why!

I would 10/10 recommend this program to other students. It is an unparalleled opportunity to, not only gain experience in academia, but also to learn practical skills to bolster a resumé.

What are your plans now that you graduated?

I graduated in May, and so now I am taking a year off to earn some money and hopefully complete my research project with my mentor so that I can be prepared for graduate studies next year!

ASA Tip:  The Aboriginal Undergraduate Student Research Mentorship will be open for student applications soon! The mentorship will occur in Term 2 of the Winter 2017-2018 Session. If you’re interested in applying, please follow ASA on Facebook or send us an email to arts.aboriginal@ubc.ca

Theresa Warbus is from the Stó:lō Nation. She now resides in Vancouver BC with her two children and husband, on the traditional and unceded territory of her grandfather, the Musqueam Nation. Theresa is a film student at UBC, she will complete her Bachelor of Fine Arts in Film Production in spring of 2018.  Theresa has worked in the arts as an activist and hip hop artist for ten years.  She recently turned her attention to film making and hopes to bridge gaps in knowledge and understanding to tell stories that are both modern and explore the traditional oral history of the Stó:lō and Coast Salish people.  Theresa wants to makes films that are impactful, not only for her people, but for everyone.

What are you studying at UBC and how did you choose your specialization?

I am in in the Film Production Program at UBC on my way into my 4th and final year; I will graduate with a Bachelor of Fine Arts.  I chose film production after taking an introductory program called Lens of Empowerment at the University of the Fraser Valley, I was actually going back to school for psychology – aiming to work with Indigenous youth in the school system.  I ended up making my first short documentary and I fell in love with the art form, I just knew it was I am meant to be doing with my life.

Could you tell me a bit about the Museum of Anthropology Youth Mentorship project and the role that you had Summer 2016?

I was looking for work and really needed to secure something full time that would support myself, and my family, throughout the summer months.  I came across the posting for the Native Youth Program Manager, running out of the Museum of Anthropology (MOA) – I felt like it was a perfect fit for my skill set and interest in working close to home!  The interview was so awesome and I just love the staff at MOA, the idea of working with Native youth all summer so they could learn and thrive really excited me.  So I managed the Native youth program, which included the research assistant and 6 Native youth.  We created their curriculum, based on previous years’ templates, and input from staff.  Then we got to work promoting the program and pulling in applicants — we interviewed youth and hired the top 6 applicants.  We spent the summer learning about the in-house exhibitionist, Lawrence Paul [Yuxwelputun], the youth worked on public speaking, presenting to museum visitors, creating podcasts based on the art at CiTR, and also creating their own digital stories using machinimas – taught by an amazing Mohawk artist – Skawanatti.  I basically facilitated all of this, ran the program, and mentored the youth.  It was a jam packed, busy, and fun summer to say the least!

Where on campus is home for you?

I live in the family housing on campus.  It’s so awesome to have our own house that is close to classes and my kid’s school.  They both attend U-Hill now and they love it here!

What was it like transitioning to life at UBC as an aboriginal student?

As any student would experience – I suppose there were some adjustments to be made.  I moved to campus with my little family (husband and two kids) so we all had to try and integrate ourselves into the community.  I’m lucky, I suppose, because I’m in a program which is fairly small, and have remained with my same class over the three years that I have been here.  I did make use of the Longhouse as a touch down point to meet other Aboriginal students, to study, and just get a taste of home – where you see other Native faces and give the “nod” – it just feels good when you know other people that are the same, get you, see you, and know what it’s like to be a minority in your own territory.

What are your go-to tips for de-stressing student life?

Oh man!  Exercise and go for a nice hot tub/steam session.  When everything seems crazy, I just need to put it all down, take a moment to myself so I have the energy to proceed.  Whether it’s tea or a walk with a friend – anything to actually clear my mind so I can approach it with new energy.

ASA Tip: Learn more about the MOA Youth Program here. Feel like you need to unwind with a nice hot tub session? Check out the UBC Pool’s hours here.

Nikita Day is a 3rd year student majoring in Gender Studies, Race, Sexuality and Social Justice (GRSJ) with a minor in First Nations and Indigenous Studies (FNIS). Nikita is familiar with the pressures of school and attending a university bigger than her home community. Read more to find out how Nikita spent Summer 2017 doing what she loves, her advice for new Aboriginal students and her work with the Indigenous Collective and Unceded Airwave’s at CiTR Radio Station.

Why did you choose to study GRSJ and FNIS?

I actually came to UBC with the intention of majoring in Media Studies. However, during my first year I was finding the majority of my courses to be a bit dry and mechanical. Luckily, as part of the Media Studies CAP program, I had to take a mandatory class similar to GRSJ and it’s safe to say I was hooked by the second week. I felt so moved by that one class that I ultimately decided to change my major to GRSJ and haven’t really looked back since.

Could you tell me a bit about how these two subjects relate and complement each other?

GRSJ is an extremely broad topic so a lot of students choose to minor or double major in a more specific facet that interests them. Intersectionality between the different issues studied in GRSJ has always interested me, and I think that it is essential for having well rounded discourse on any topic surrounding gender, race, sexuality and so on. For me, being an Indigenous woman, I can’t help but look at most of these subjects from an Indigenous perspective and it has always been the topic that I am the most drawn to. Declaring FNIS as my minor has given me the opportunity to really focus in how our histories and experiences as Indigenous peoples continues to shape our relationships today. There are a lot of misconceptions and remaining prejudice in Canada with respect to Indigenous peoples and much of this stems simply from misinformation or a general lack of knowledge on the issues. Even though an institution like UBC isn’t the only place to educate oneself, for me, it’s helped create a better understanding of my own views and allowed me to shape opinions on things that I hadn’t thought extensively about before coming here.

How did you get involved with CiTR (UBC’s Campus Radio Station) and what is your role there?

I think I originally joined the radio looking for some sort of creative outlet. I had signed up for the Women’s Collective initially and after attending one of their general meetings it turned out that the Indigenous Collective was meeting in the same place right after, so I stuck around and sat in. I ended up coming back the next week and then the week after that as well. Before I had really thought about it, I was an official member. My role in the collective isn’t really set in stone, but I essentially work with a group of Indigenous and non-Indigenous students to put on the weekly radio show called Unceded Airwaves. Because I have never worked in radio before it’s all been a massive learning experience. From doing my first interview and creating my first podcast, to running the board during our live shows, I’ve enjoyed doing it all.

What are you currently doing now and what is your favourite part about your current job?

While my major is GRSJ, I definitely haven’t lost interest in media and my ultimate goal is to become a screenwriter. I’ve spent the last summer in Winnipeg at the National Screen Institute attending the CBC New Indigenous Voices Program. From there, I’ve been gaining experience in writing, directing, and producing my own work. This year I plan to finish my degree, continue taking part in the radio show, and spend more time pursuing my own projects. For me, combining creativity with critical thinking, and hopefully spreading awareness on certain issues, especially those surrounding Indigenous peoples, is really rewarding. I hope to continue doing that for as long as possible.

What is something you know now that you didn’t know before you started your degree at UBC?

I feel like I’ve gained a better perspective on the things that really matter to me and what I’m truly passionate about. When I first got here, I thought that I had it all figured out. Now, I’ve found myself on a completely different path, but it also feels as though everything is working out the way it should. I wish that I had known to take advantage of the resources available to me as an Indigenous student in my first two years. It wasn’t really until my third year that I started going to the Long House and collaborating with the other Indigenous students, and that has turned out to be one of the most rewarding experiences that I’ll take away from my time here.

Do you have any advice for Aboriginal students who are trying to make friends and feel connected on campus?

I know how difficult it can be attending an institution like UBC for the first time especially if, like me, you come from a much smaller place. My advice for other Indigenous students would be to try getting involved. It doesn’t necessarily have to be at the Long House, although it’s a good place to start, there are also hundreds of clubs and organizations on campus that have created their own smaller communities and safe spaces. It’s one of the easiest ways to meet like-minded people and to make friends. I think that this is really important, otherwise you can find yourself getting swept up in the massive crowds or being crushed under all the pressure. Also, I would recommend being open minded. I came to UBC being so focused on doing one thing, but now I’m in a degree that I didn’t even know existed before coming here. Ultimately, I think that granting yourself the freedom to try new things and finding the courage to expand your views on what you thought was possible, is key to making the most of your time in university.

Who/what has inspired you lately?

This summer, working with other young Indigenous filmmakers on their projects has been such an inspiring experience for me. Seeing the impact that their work has had and the passion with which they are chasing their dreams is something that drives me to work harder on my own endeavours. Similarly, being a part of the Indigenous Collective here at UBC and taking part in producing our show every week has been so rewarding because I get to see first hand the incredible work being done by Indigenous peoples all across turtle island. Hearing their stories and seeing how this can work to empower other Indigenous peoples, inspires me every day.

ASA Tip: Interested in listening or getting involved with the Aboriginal Collective and Unceded Airwaves at CiTR (UBC’s Campus radio station)? Then go check out their Website, Facebook and Twitter.

Salia Joseph is from the Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Nation and grew up on Vancouver Island. She recently graduated from First Nations and Indigenous Studies (FNIS) in 2016. She is a community organizer and facilitator interested in Indigenous rights, culture and politics and passionate about youth and women advocacy work. Read more to find out what Salia is doing now and why she chose this path.

You’ve recently graduated from FNIS! How does it feel to be done and what are you doing now?

I graduated in the spring of 2016, after 4 years in the program. It changed my life in many ways and I am deeply grateful to the faculty for that. There is a lot that I miss about being in those classes with my classmates and learning with and from each other. However, by the end of the program, the call to be working for and with, my nation was as strong as ever. FNIS gave me lots of the language to articulate just how important community based work and grassroots activism is.

Now I am working for my community, the Squamish Nation, in the culture and education department. My supervisor is Joy Joseph-McCullough who is very active in cultural revitalization work and the spread of culture to our community, particularly the youth. I have so much to learn from her and am thrilled to work for her doing a variety of different projects such as tribal canoe journeys, culture camps, indigenous plant medicine garden, and facilitating weaving workshops.

I heard you are starting the Temstl’i7 ta Sníchim program in the fall, why did you choose to take the Squamish Language program? Could you elaborate on why learning the language is so important to you and your community?

As I think about my future, the future of my family, my community, it continually comes back to language. Our language was so nearly stolen from us and I want to be a part of the growing number of nation members who are fighting to keep it in our community. I want to understand my elders in their own tongue, I want to sit with them and have them know that their fight for their culture and who we are as Sḵwx̱wú7mesh peoples was worth it all.  I want to know what is being said during ceremony, to be able to listen to our leaders speak to our family, and know what is being asked of us. I want to pray to my ancestors in their own language so they really hear us, and can feel the sounds of their words in their hearts.

What is one thing you know now, that you didn’t know when you started at UBC?
Oh, that’s a tough one. Ha. I think the healing that comes as a result of this type of learning has been the most significant for me as it gave me context to understand why things are the way they are, it gave me language for the injustice and grief I see in my family and community, but most importantly it gave me the tools to fully understand and appreciate the strength and resistance that I see all around me.

How did your undergrad experience prepare you for life after graduation?
It helped carve out my personal, professional, and cultural trajectory. It introduced me to friends that I will keep close forever.

Who inspires you?
Single mammas!

Do you have any advice for current and new Aboriginal students?
Check out the longhouse and go to the Tuesday lunches. Remember, we come from intelligent peoples and our ancestors are so proud of us.

ASA Tip: If you’re interested in learning a First Nations language, as well as methodology on language documentation, conservation and revitalization, check out UBC’s First Nations and Endangered Languages Program here.