Indigenous Career Journey Stories: Deborah L. Smith

Indigenous Career Journey Stories: Deborah L. Smith

By: admin
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Where did you grow up? 

I grew up in Northern Alberta, moved around the Province to different places, then made a huge move to Los Angeles, California where I spent 13 years.

What were some of the challenges you faced growing up? 

My parents were blue-collar workers that both worked at two and three jobs while my brothers and I grew up. I ended up being the babysitter when I was turning seven. We were alone most of the time and I would say that left me having to grow up too soon. Then, as I became a teenager, my parents thought that I was still supposed to be a kid, but I had been responsible for a lot and rebelled. My adolescence and early adult years were tough trying to figure out how to fit into everyone's expectations and ignoring what I felt was important to me. I wanted my family to love me and to be proud of me. For a long time, I didn't know how to let go. 

When you were young, what did you want to be when you grew up? 

When I was young, I wanted to be a geologist. When I was failing at Mathematics and Physics, I gave up that idea for a career. Then I wasn't sure by the time I came to graduate from high school. I chose to work when I graduated. 

When did you start thinking about attending post-secondary? 

Four years after I left high school, I was ready to consider going to college. I started Grande Prairie Regional College in the fall of 1980.

What were some of the reasons you decided to further your education? 

I knew I wanted to do something with my life. My family wanted me to be a teacher or a nurse. There wasn't enormous pressure to attend College, but I loved learning and knew that furthering my education was important to my personal growth, even if I was not that mature emotionally.

Write a brief timeline of your schooling experience. 

This is difficult because the road has been a long one and filled with many stops and starts. I would say never be afraid of having to do things over and over again because failure is not weakness or "bad". It's a way to know how to move forward. 

1980-81    Grande Prairie Regional College.
1983         University of Alberta
1995         University of Lethbridge
1999         Athabasca University
2004-05    Technology Development Center, Ventura, California
2007         Los Angeles Film School - LA, California
2009         Los Angeles City College - LA, California
2012         Thomas Edison State College - Online
2015         Simon Fraser University

Share your experience of finding funding. 

Student loans, bursaries, grants and working have been all a part of the ways to fund my education. Fortunately, my current situation with Simon Fraser University has been such that my education has been supplemented with bursaries, work study, and scholarships. Loans are the hardest way to put you through your education, unless it is as a way to supplement expenses. From personal experience having that extra payment depending on the job you have that may be entry level or minimum wage is so challenging. 

Share a time when you wanted to quit. 

The first four post-secondary institutes I attended I quit before I got started. My family expectations were that I be a teacher or a nurse. I tried doing that and couldn't find the energy to dig into the course work, or understand that my unhappiness was coming from trying to fulfill other people's expectations. It has been a long hard road to come to terms with staying true to my gifts and to expand them through learning. 

Share your proudest moment.

I am proud of not letting setbacks eat me up and stop me from pursuing my craft as a writer or an artist, or stop my education. 

Where are you currently in respect to your education? 

There are still a few years before I am finished. I would like to work on a Master's Degree after this Bachelors Degree in Arts, Performance and Cinema.

What has been your most important lesson returning to school? 

Find community as soon as you can. Don't fill up your first semester with course work. Take as much time as you can to find the resources that are available and stay open to sincere people that are there for your higher good.

What advice do you have to offer other Indigenous students? 

Do what you can to stay proud of your heritage and learn what has been kept out of the education system that furthers our knowledge of the past. Connect with the heart and spirit of where you come from and bring that into the classes and coursework that mobilizes Indigenous Knowledge. Show courage, be humble, yet be activated. 

What are your goals for the future? 

My plans are to continue with writing, to eventually go back to filmmaking, and to expand my artistic pursuits in Printmmaking. It is important to keep Native themes, poetics, and aesthetics in the mediums I explore, for my spiritual growth and personal development. I would like to engage with Native Communities through art, writing, and filmmaking. Eventually, I would like to contribute to the fundamental principles that make our Nations strong, sovereign, and transformed into Keepers of This Land once more. 

kitatamihin - thank you, you make me smile.

Posted on April 28, 2016