SFU Indigenous Speakers: Crystal Morris

SFU Indigenous Speakers: Crystal Morris

By: Crystal Morris | Aboriginal Education Coordinator, UBC
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My Name is Crystal Morris I am of Secwempc (Shuswap) Nation, Interior of BC and of Saanichton Vancouver Island.  I have been fortunate to have 2 sets of Parents – Ethel Thomas & Leonard Lezime AND Debbie & Sandy Morris. I grew up outside of Seattle where there were 10 of us in my family, I was the 2nd youngest. 

I began my high school career with 25 other First Nation students by the time I graduated there were 3 of us walking down the Graduation aisle; it was tough to be in a system and to be a role model to the younger youth.

I grew up outside of Seattle and moved to Canada with my family in 1981.  It was a culture shock moving from United States to Canada, and moving public schools across the countries.  Including things you never think of such as:

  • Metric/Standard systems
  • Canadian/American History
  • Spelling
  • Racism in Canada

I made it through high school and graduated with my Dogwood in 1987.  After Graduation I remained close home and attended Okanagan College in Vernon, BC. 

Two major events in my life happened during high school, and they would eventually shape me into the person I am today (my mom has put this into perspective for me).

1.  Queen’s Candidate Program – This was a multi year dedication to the City of Enderby. The Enderby Queen’s Candidacy Program was in existence for over 25 years before I entered as a contestant. (Until 1986, a First Nation had never competed.)

It was a year of balancing my athletics, which I wasn’t willing to give up, with studying for school; standards for Queen’s program included the requirement to keep good grades. All in addition to the extra programs and volunteer hours the Queens Committee set up (public speaking, serving at teas, dancing with the Elderly in Enderby, speech classes, preparing speeches, proper etiquette, fundraising, the list goes on.). Nobody told me how much time I would need to commit each week to be a Queen’s Candidate! It was not all the glory publicity has this made out to be. In 1987, after a long year of late night studying, and playing multiple sports, I was crowned the Enderby Princess. At the time I was emotional for just completing the year and to know I had a commitment to a second year of representing the City of Enderby! What a new challenge: A whole new year of Parades, pageants, visiting and touring other Cities and communities. All while dedicating time to my own education and then Graduation from High School. It was busy year and when things started to slip my mom would say things to me like "Things better pick up or something has to give (which usually meant my sports). 

2.  The 2nd event was a United Nation Indian Tribal Youth (UNITY) Conference in Denver, Colorado.  It began as a contest open to Splatsin Youth Band members.  I had to write a 1500 word essay on why I should be chosen to attend the conference and what I would gain from attending.  The journey still affects my life today as I have re-connected to at least 5 individuals, or met them again in personal or professional life. 

My partner Kevin, from Montana said “When I first saw you, you were volunteering behind the registration booth, handing out t-shirts.”  A person I would not have met otherwise who would once again became a major part of my life over this past year.

During the conference I volunteered to introduce a self-made Texan millionaire, today he is still a strong supporter of UNITY.  I also visited with Miss Indian World, who is now working Health for Alaska Native Indian health services and many other spiritual, educational spokespersons across the United States. The positive influence and impact of the line up the week-long event had a lifetime of positive effect on me.

In 1989 my daughter was born and my career was put on hold.  I moved us to various parts of Washington State, and as I began to look at a return to a Community College I worked in local fast food resturants to support us. I received a call to move home and begin a career as Office Receptionist. It was here I received my first big break and career support. From this point my career took off within Band Administration. I grew more confident in my capabilities and was given another promotion to learn finances. I moved into data entry and basic accounting functions. As time went on I moved within various management functions, including roles such in Human Resources, Housing management, Office Management, Payroll, Senior Finance Clerk, Assistant Administration.   

In 1994, I decided to return to College. I began a 2-year program through Okanagan College's Business Administration Diploma Program. While taking 6 courses per semester I was also caring for a young family and building a new home. Challenging, yes, but I managed to balance my family and education at the age of 25. After two long years and many nights of studying, with my daughter proudly by my side I graduated from College in 1996. Challenges I faced included not being able to go to class until my daughter went to school in the morning, not beginning homework until she went to bed at 7:30-8:00 at night, all while cooking and cleaning so it had no effect on the operation of our household. 

In 1998, my son was born, another light in my life. I returned to work when he was 6-months old. I was in senior management at that point in my career. By the time my son reached age 5. I decided I need to further my career and took on the role of Health Director and returned to school in 2003. I took the Aboriginal Health Career Administration Certificate Program at UBC. The program allowed me to work at my job while working towards furthering my education. It meant long days at work, nights spent studying, and travelling to Vancouver every 6 weeks. 

I continued through varying degrees of my career within Band Adminstration, including Senior management for my band. At a point in time where things were personally challenging for me I moved to Washington State and assisted with the Colville Confederated Tribes Emergency Preparedness Plan. We went on to be the Leaders and presented our plan at the North West area Indian Health Board Annual Conference – I presented to a tribal consortium of representatives from Idaho, Washington and Oregon. The biggest successful challenge was getting 15 program managers to agree to work together. 

I furthered my career with the Tribes and moved into a Senior Management role as the Administrative Assistant for the newly created Risk Management program. This included supporting the Risk Manager in the area of Tribal Benefits, Tribal Safety, Vehicle, Property and Building Insurances, and the Self Insured Workers Compensation programs, an overall program budget of 10 million dollars combined. What helped me succeed: A good attitude, and an ability to communicate and network with Tribal members, Staff, and outside organizations. 

In 2007, I moved home for an offer with Interior Health, but my band offered to employ me once again as the Health Director, it opened my door to work for my community once again. The greatest of my accomplishments was negotiating the new Splatsin Health Centre. In spite of the challenges faced with certain staff the 5 year evaluation and 10 year health plan and the funding was secured for the 2.1 Million dollar Health Building. 

In 2010 my career took a change, I worked for the First Nations Health Council as the Interior Governance Liaison. Here I worked with the 7 Nation Representatives of the Interior and 56 Bands, after which I took some time and completed some contract work. 

Currently, I have been in job for 5 months as the Aboriginal Education Coordinator for UBC. I have met many new people and my role is primarily with the UBC Youth Circle and UBC Learning Circle. I organize and coordinate speakers to talk and engage with Youth and Communities via Videoconference and Adobe connect, while at the same time increasing capacity of participants i.e School districts, FN Community Youth, and Band Operated Schools, and other Colleges and Universities. 

Volunteer:  (giving back to family, friends & community)

  • Sharing our Culture with those who want cultural knowledge – Drs. Medical personnel
  • Assisting people with divorce – Friends, family, Community members paperwork and court systems
  • Assisting family who have social and issues
  • Assisting people who need to find medical services or have issue
  • Taxation – helping family and friends with taxes

If there was a message I could leave you with: (in addition to staying in School and studying hard)

  • Believe in yourself!
  • A great person I believed in was Alwyn Morris, LA Olympics Gold and Silver medallist, who said “If you have it in you to dream you have it in you too succeed!"
  • Network – take the time to get to know people, those networks can help build a career. 
  • Don’t forget where you came from, and if given the opportunity to take someone by the hand and help them, it’s personally rewarding! (I will always be grateful for those who believed in me and helped my career out.)
  • Culture and support – like the Career Support Centre here at SFU, it's a common theme or thread with the UBC Youth Speakers.
  • Learning is a life long process!  I am currently taking an online “Managing at UBC” course, to be completed over the next year.  I am considering a few options and need to decide my next educational path: 1.  Masters in Public Health Administration 2. Bachelor in Health Administration or 3. Degree in Mental Health Counselling.
  • The world of Academia is amazing: The people you meet and work with, and amazing students like yourselves!

Crystal Morris is First Nations, from Interior Splatsin, Shuswap Nation and from Vancouver Island Tsartlip, Saanicton Nation. She began her career in Finance and Band Administration and worked her way in various capacities in her band, including the health department. More recently, Crystal was employed by the First Nation Health Society as Regional Governance Liaison for the Interior of BC. Crystal's education includes a Business Administration diploma, a major in Accounting, in 1996 from Okanagan College in Vernon.

Crystal's current role is the Aboriginal Education Coordinator for the School of Population & Public Health at UBC. One of her goals is to build bridges with Aboriginal communities and universities to support career choices for Aboriginal Youth.

Posted on March 05, 2013