Thriving in University as an Indigenous Student

A photo of flowers on a sunny dayWritten by: Naomi Sarazin, Graduate Student, Master in Professional Education, Indigenous Educational Leadership

Dear Indigenous Student,

Congratulations! You made it, you’re here in university, and just that alone is an accomplishment. I am so proud of you! You know who else is proud of you? All your ancestors. There are many that came before us that fought tirelessly for us to have the right to education, and to enroll in higher learning programs at the post-secondary level. You belong here! Some days it won’t feel like it, and you may want to give up, but remember those two words – you belong. Even better, say it to yourself – I belong!

Kwey! Naomi ndizhinikaaz, Pikwàkanagàn ndoonjibaa (Hi, my name is Naomi and I am from the Algonquins of Pikwàkanagàn First Nation). I am completing my last year of graduate studies in the Master of Professional Education program in the field of Indigenous Educational Leadership (the university uses the term Aboriginal to describe the focus area of the program, but as a way to honour connection to the land, I much prefer to use the term Indigenous). Speaking of land, as a First Nation, Inuit, or Métis student, always remember the land where you are from. This is a good segue into what this blog post is about – real-life tips on thriving in university as an Indigenous student.

1. Know That You Belong

Since I was an ikwezins (young girl) my parents ensured I was grounded in who I am as Anishinabe and the aki (land) where I am from – and I carry that knowledge of being with me. I recognize I am in a place of privilege being rooted in who I am as Anishinabe, but I want to start here, to acknowledge that no matter where you are in your journey, know that you belong. It’s true that colonization has impacted so many families and communities by displacing us from our land, but despite that, as an Indigenous person, you are here, you are strong, and you will make it through this journey. Bring into your being the resilience of your people, their spirits will help guide you on your path to success.

2. Stay The Course

Some days are going to feel super overwhelming. I’m not going to lie; I cried many tears through this educational journey. But if you stay the course, keep your end line in sight, I assure you that time will go by fast. What helps me is keeping organized. Every term I start with a blank calendar and write down all my important deadline dates for assignments. This helps me to manage my time more effectively.

3. Get A Support Network!

Rally your people! Know who you can call on when times are challenging, and you just feel like crawling under the covers and not wanting to face reality. This is probably my best piece of advice I can give – find the people in your life who are going to support you on your journey! For me, this was family, friends, community members, professors, and university support staff. Depending on what kind of support I needed, I always had someone in my back pocket that I could call on to be a sounding board in all aspects of my life – emotional, physical, spiritual, and mental. And be okay with reaching out for help and support, people in your life want to see you succeed!

4. Celebrate The Small Wins

Every time you hand in an assignment, celebrate! Do something small for yourself that will make you feel good. Treat yourself, you deserve it. Buy yourself that latte at that expensive coffee shop, buy yourself dinner, take a day (or two) off schoolwork and just enjoy your time. You earned it!

These are all small acts of kindness you can gift yourself. It’s a way to stay connected to who you are, your culture, and your community. By continuing your educational path, know that you are opening the door for others to follow. Keep blazing the trail for those who will come after you.

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