Post-secondary graduates are economic and social contributors to the communities in which they live. College and university can teach life lessons. Last fall we asked students to tell us their college and university stories. Tanya Boult, a Native Education College graduate, shared with us what her education journey will mean for her family and community.
My introduction into post-secondary education began when I crossed the threshold of the Longhouse that stands stoically on the corner of East 5th Avenue and Scotia Street in Vancouver. I still remember that cold, wet, and blustery morning when I crossed the threshold of the Longhouse little did I know that it would leave an impression on me that would impact and inspire me, not only in the journey of myself but also the journey into my education. Today as I start a new decade of my life I would never have imagined that I would return to school; nor did I expect that threshold to inspire me to continue with my journey into post-secondary.
My journey began in my 36th year when I found myself standing at the doors of the Native Education College. That January morning as I stood at the doors of that impressive Longhouse, I could not tell if it was the sting of the coldness and rain or the nervousness that ran throughout my body that made my hands shake as I pulled that grand wooden door open. As I crossed over the threshold the only thing that I really wanted to do was to turn and run; as I nervously stepped over the threshold I could hear the voices of my 5- and 8-year-old nieces reminding me of why I was there.
For me returning to school was an idea that I had played with, but could never find the inner strength within myself to investigate. But that October, I had gone to Edmonton to visit my sister and her children. I remember that afternoon like it was yesterday, playing on the living room floor and talking with my nieces and me asking the simple question of what they wanted to be when they got older. I thought that I would get the typical responses: a teacher, a veterinarian or even an actor. But my niece looked at me and with those precocious brown eyes and said, “I want to be like you Auntie and work at Walmart,” and then her younger sister copied her with great enthusiasm.
It was then that I knew that I needed to create a change within my life to become the role model that these two beautiful souls already saw in me. It would be those simple words that would inspire me to change my life and work towards inspiring my sister’s four children to pursue post-secondary education one day.
I walked past that Native Education College numerous times before I found the strength to walk through the doors and into the admission office. It had been close to 20 years since I had last been in school. There was something about this school that did not make me want to run the moment I stepped through the doors. I am not sure if was the warmth of the fire or the smiles from the other students greeting me, that slowly calmed the memories of high school pounding on me like the waves of a storm attacking a beach.
That January morning, I entered into a new world, not just into the world of education, but into the world of my First Nation heritage and culture. My heritage and culture were never part of my life. When I walked into the Longhouse with its high and vaulted ceilings, the cedar benches surrounded the fire pit majestically, while the windows encased in the planks of the cedar wall brought in the warmth of the sun. This is a memory that still resonates with me today.
I didn’t know what I wanted to do or study, but I knew that I needed to upgrade my high school before I could apply for any type of post-secondary program. After talking with an advisor, I found myself taking the required tests to place me within Aboriginal Adult Basic Education (AABE) program classes.
The only classes I needed were English and math, but I also made the decision to take a First Nation Studies class, too. Throughout my first semester, I noticed instructors of these classes were nothing but supportive of all students. I found nothing but a sense of community amongst the faculty and students. The elders of the Longhouse always sat in the common area, available for anyone to talk to. At other times, elders would have workshops where one could find themselves learning and making traditional hand drums, medicine pouches or beading. In this environment, I found something in myself I did not know existed: I began to believe that I could be a successful student outside the Longhouse.
Over four semesters, I completed my required upgrading classes and took self-government and cultural studies courses. These courses not only open my eyes to myself, but also made me think of what I wanted to study once I was done the AABE program.
I had some decisions to make. I realized that I really wanted to continue with First Nation Studies and in the fall of 2013, I began my first post-secondary classes at Nicola Valley Institute of Technology.
My time spent studying in the Longhouse made me realize that I wanted to obtain my Bachelor Degree at the University of British Columbia’s Indigenous Teachers Education Program and one day work towards my Master’s Degree.
Four years ago, I would never have imagined myself within a post-secondary environment, but today as I enter my 40th year I have found myself evolving, not just as a person who is slowly claiming their identity, but as a successful student in post-secondary. There may be some individuals who say that it was “someone” who inspired them in their pursuit of an education. But for me, it was during that cold, wet, and blustery January morning, when I crossed the threshold of the Longhouse on East 5th Avenue and Scotia Street that my education journey began.
You can let the BC government know how important this issue is by adding your name along with thousands of other British Columbians who are pledging to vote for BC post-secondary education. There’s an election coming up on May 9th, and we need a change for BC students.
*This story is excerpted from Tanya’s original submission, which was a winner in the 2016 Open the Doors Education Contest.