Georgina Johnston says that university will fly by if students explore and study what they're passionate about.

Convocation, Indigenous Studies, Students

Georgina Johnston wants to teach Canadians about Indigenous history and culture

June 01, 2020
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Georgina Johnston came to SFU in pursuit of a criminology degree so she could become a police officer. But she also came to SFU with an open mind and as she followed her interests her learning path changed.

This June, Johnston graduates with a major in Indigenous Studies and in the fall, she will begin the Professional Development Program at SFU with the goal of becoming an elementary school teacher. She says she’d eventually like to complete a master’s degree one day, with a focus on Indigenous education.

“I want to teach Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians alike about Indigenous history and culture, and create spaces within the education system to insert Indigeneity,” she says.

Johnston says a major highlight of her undergraduate studies was a semester-long exchange in Ireland in her final year. During the trip she broke out of her shell as well as her usual routine. Attending school in a new culture gave her a chance to explore who she was and what she wanted do with her life.

Read more below about Georgina Johnston’s experiences during her undergraduate studies at SFU.

Why did you choose to major in Indigenous Studies at SFU?

During my first semester at SFU, I took First Nations Studies 101 with Annie Ross, and I really enjoyed the course’s format and content. There was a strong sense of community within the classroom, and it was a safe space to learn and grow. As a Squamish woman, I also wanted to learn more about my culture and other Indigenous peoples and cultures, and felt that this area of study would greatly benefit me both academically and personally.

What were your favorite courses or instructors?

I took both ethnobotany and ethnoecology with Robert Bandringa, which were extremely informative about various plants and how Indigenous peoples in British Columbia have used them as food, medicinally, socially, spiritually and ceremonially. These classes included field trips and on-the-land activities, in which we were given the chance to learn from Squamish knowledge holders and learn about local plants.

In my final semester, I was also able to take a directed readings (Fnst 442) with Dr. Deanna Reder and explored one of my research interests, the politics of identity in relationship to Indigeneity. I read 5 separate books, ranging from memoirs and collections of poetry, to academic pieces. Through this learning experience, I was able to choose a path of learning I didn’t have the same access to in other courses. I would highly recommend that students take self-directed courses in which they are able to explore topics of interest.

Which university skill would you say has been the most valuable to you?

Through my university experience, I have learned the skills needed to effectively research, which in turn allows for access to an abundance of knowledge resources. This skill is vital not only for academic contexts but personal projects. Research is used in all career paths, and is important through non-academic spaces as well.

What activities or campus clubs did you participate in during your time at SFU?

I was a part of the SFU choir for the first three years of my undergrad. This club is a wonderful space in which folks who enjoy singing are able to meet once a week and be guided through a selection of songs while meeting new people and having fun. Each semester culminates with a performance in which the choir performs all the songs we learned throughout the semester. The choir is a great mixture of fun, discipline and learning.

Is there an event you’re proud of contributing to?

In my second year, I took a World Literature course. I am typically a fairly shy person, but the instructor of this course convinced us students to submit our work to be entered into the annual world literature conference at SFU. My work was chosen, and I was asked to read my work as well as be a part of question panel. Though this experience was thoroughly nerve-wracking, it was definitely beneficial in pushing my boundaries in academia, and allowed me to include Indigenous content and understandings within World Literature.

Can you offer any words of wisdom to new undergraduate students in your field?

Explore and study what you are passionate about, and university will fly by.