My name is Mike and I am originally from Little Black Bear’s Band in the Treaty #4 area. I am in my final year of a First Nations Studies degree here at SFU and currently I am working on a research project with the SFU Career Services team. Our goal is to determine ways in which the Career Services team can better serve the indigenous student population. Career Services noticed that a very small percentage of the indigenous students on campus take advantage of their services and, with a burgeoning population of almost 500 self-identified First Nations students attending SFU, decided identifying opportunities to connect with that demographic in a meaningful way was important.
When I first heard about the project, I was told that there needed to be an indigenization of Career Services programs in order to make them more culturally appropriate for indigenous students, in a way implying that there was something culturally inappropriate about the way in which Career Services currently offers programming. With this in mind I began looking outward, away from SFU, to see what other institutions were doing. I spoke to representatives from many different universities, directors at Aboriginal Friendship Centres, and the administrator of the successful AboriginalLynx career resources website. These conversations provided valuable insight and helped to shape some of the recommendations I’ll be incorporating into the final draft of my project.
However, despite having some productive conversations with individuals from outside of the SFU family, I was hit with the realization that I was on the wrong path when the manager of Career Services sent the below ’success map’ out in an email. It was one of the many emails that I had deleted that day, thinking I would never have any use for the image, but something about it kept dancing around in the back of my mind.
As I was daydreaming one afternoon, the image nudging its way to the front of my mind, I found myself following the squiggly path in my imagination. As the path became more complex I found myself dancing to the beat of a drum. It was suddenly clear that the squiggly path was, to me, a clear representation of the movements common in the men’s grass dance (photo is of a fancy dancer by my good friend Mike Dubois – Dub Photography).
Allow me to explain. Traditionally, grass dancers arrive at the site of a Pow Wow celebration a few days in advance of the event. Their job is to flatten the prairie grass in such a way that it will not be damaged when the other dancers arrive. They are especially careful of the sweetgrass, which is thought to be the hair of Mother Earth. If you ever watch grass dancers you will notice their extremely intricate footwork. The dancers turn here and there, gently patting the grass down with their feet. Their movement transitions from one direction to the next without apparent rhyme or reason, but at the end of the day the entire celebration area is completely flattened and ready for the Pow Wow to commence.
So how does this relate to the success map? Well, I suppose that it would be just as easy for the grass dancers to have a site map, complete with diagrams, measurements, and the tools necessary to execute a very specific plan. It would be a very direct method of getting the exact same job done. For some people, this might seem to be a more efficient way of conducting business and, for them, they may be right. It is not my place to surmise which way of doing things is better. The bottom line is that each method gets the same end result.
For me, the key revelation in this daydream was that the team at SFU Career Services is already open to indigenous ways of thinking. That simple mail from a member of the management team showed me there is recognition that there are multiple ways to get to the same end result, which is very encouraging for me. As I began to look inward and shift my focus to the programming that is offered here, rather than what is offered at other institutions, I was pleasantly surprised. I have heard from a few staff members that you don’t need to have a plan in order to have a great career and that, in fact, most plans don’t work out in the end anyway. How refreshing to hear from a western institution that it is ok to just go with the flow and let the Creator guide your path. All of your experiences, both good and bad, will be learning opportunities that have the potential to make you a better person. Elders have been telling that to our young people since time immemorial and, while the words might not be the same, I believe the philosophy behind the meaning is.
My research has identified some key areas of opportunity for SFU Career Services. I look forward to presenting my final report in December and am extremely excited to begin implementing some of my recommendations in the New Year. I am thrilled to have realized that, while there is room for improvement, the team at SFU Career Services seems to already be operating with a basic ideology that is very much in tune with indigenous ways of thinking. There is a great opportunity to cultivate some meaningful relationships here, and I look to the future with optimistic anticipation.
SFU Career Services
Indigenous Student Researcher
Editor's Note: This article originally appeared on Oct 26, 2011, and is being featured as part of a series of posts leading up to this year's Indigenous Peoples' Career Stories event on March 27, 2012.