Ashley Kyne, who recently graduated from Simon Fraser University (SFU) with her bachelor of arts in Criminology (Hons) and Indigenous Studies, wants to encourage other students to follow their passions when they arrive on campus this fall. “There are so many things happening at the university. This is the time to try those things out,” says Ashley. “Part of the university experience is discovering yourself. Everyone is on their own path, that’s what is great about SFU.” By taking on a variety of roles – from non-profit volunteer, to research assistant, to teaching assistant – while working towards her degree, Ashley learned about herself and the possibilities open to her after graduation.
As an iTaukei student, as well as a first generation Canadian, Ashley found a supportive learning environment at the Department of Indigenous Studies. “At first, I was intimidated to enroll because it was called First Nations Studies at the time. I was curious to know how I fit in.” says Ashley. “The name change to Indigenous Studies feels more inclusive for students like me, and it also acknowledges some of the connections between Indigenous cultures around the globe.” Enrolling in Indigenous Studies also provided Ashley with a sense of belonging through sharing culture. “One of my favorite memories was being invited by my professor, Deanna Reder, to participate in a salmon feast, which included drumming and other festivities,” says Ashley. “I don’t know how to explain it, but I could feel the drumming in my heart. It was an amazing experience. My mom attended the event with me, and being included inspired her to reconnect with her own identity as an Indigenous person, which has been something we can share.”
Learning about the lived experiences of Indigenous peoples has not only allowed Ashley to bond with her family and a community on campus, it has also empowered her to become a strong advocate for others. Knowledge gained from her Indigenous Studies courses has informed Ashley’s approach as a volunteer and employee for non-profit organizations. “When I worked at a shelter in the Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, I wanted to create a more inclusive space for our Indigenous clients,” explains Ashley. “I was able to bring in Elders, as well as other Indigenous resources, which has helped some of our clients to begin healing.” As testament to Ashley’s dedication to the causes she cares about, she received the Mahatma Gandhi Annual Student Award in 2021. At her graduation from SFU in June 2022, Ashley was recognized with another honor: the Lieutenant Governor General Medal of Inclusion, Democracy and Reconciliation. “It was surreal to walk on stage on my convocation day and share this special moment with my parents, who were there cheering me on,” says Ashley.
It was Ashley’s interest in effecting positive change in society that originally inspired her to pair her major in Criminology with a minor in Indigenous Studies. “I was learning about the overrepresentation of Indigenous people in the criminal justice system in my Criminology courses. I wanted to gain a deeper understanding of why this issue persists.” explains Ashley. “My Indigenous Studies courses have taught me about Indigenous perspectives on history and what led us here. I have also been able to learn about the work of Indigenous scholars that we do not often get exposed to in other courses.” Ashley channeled her passion for researching the intersection of these issues into writing her honours thesis in Criminology.
The awareness she has gained from her Indigenous Studies courses has also empowered Ashley to foster a more inclusive academic environment on campus as a research assistant at SFU’s Department of History. “One of our calls to action from our report is to require all History students to take a course in Indigenous Studies to equip them with the tools to recognize and challenge colonialist narratives,” says Ashley. “I strongly believe all students at the university should take a course because Indigenous Studies at SFU teaches you to be a better ally if you are a settler.” Not content to stop at making these recommendations, Ashley is starting the groundwork by helping students to develop this skillset as a teaching assistant for courses in Indigenous Studies and Criminology.
Embracing a variety of opportunities for personal and intellectual growth inside and outside of the classroom has led Ashley to apply her research skills to help her community in her future educational and career pursuits. “I’m excited to return to SFU this fall,” says Ashley. “I am working on my Master of Arts in Criminology, where I will maintain the Indigenous Studies lens to examine the criminal justice system. It is our duty to protect our people from violence and harm. I want to use my knowledge to address the root causes to effect lasting change.”
This story was originally published on the Indigenous Studies website on August 2, 2022.