Convocation, Indigenous Studies, Students

Naomi Narcisse on building resilience, overcoming self-doubt and the journey of becoming a life-long learner

June 09, 2020

My name is Naomi Narcisse.

I am from the St'at'imc Nation muta7 Xaxli'pmeckan. I grew up on a tiny reserve of 20 homes between Lillooet and Cache Creek, called Ts'kw'aylaxw First Nation. I am very fortunate that I was raised by my parents who spoke our language often, and raised me my siblings on traditional foods/medicines.

I left my home territory at a young age, and dropped out of high school 4 credits shy of graduation. I did not pursue my post-secondary education until later on in my life. After I raised my three children as a single mother, to an age where they could understand the importance of education and how it would benefit us all. 

I often share my story about how I began my educational journey. I began my degree at Nicola Valley Institute of Technology, beautiful school, BC's only Indigenous Public post secondary school. You can feel the waft of traditional knowledge, pride and spirituality when you approach the building in Merritt BC. When I decided to apply to NVIT I was advised to go to the campus to speak to an advisor. I lifted my hand to touch the door handle, I was shaking, I was terrified, I thought about turning on my heel and going back home. My own self doubt almost kept me from opening this door. I pep talked myself into pulling on the door handle, (I think I actually pushed when it said pull ha ha) my journey began. I held my head high and spoke to my academic advisor, (I never had one before). I left NVIT feeling like I was floating on a WAVE of opportunity. I immediately quit my two part-time, minimum wage jobs and dove into my studies.

I kept learning and meeting new interesting like-minded students and instructors. My favorite instructor is an Indigenous Lawyer Sharon McIvor who encouraged me to study criminology, funniest instructor taught me to "find my weird". I graduated with my Associate of Arts Degree in Criminology. 

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

I left NVIT when an SFU recruiter Jenni Blankenship was visiting the NVIT campus. She helped me apply, and find supports in the Vancouver area, next thing you know I was packing up a U-Haul, my three children, plus a dog. I did start my degree at SFU in criminology but soon found myself gravitating towards the Indigenous Studies department after I took a class with Ted Palys as he teaches Indigenous studies/Criminology, excellent professor by the way. I soon found out that I was not as savvy in Indigenous Knowledge as I thought. I grew up in such a small community, it is all I knew! It was so beautiful to attend the Indigenous Studies courses with allys and Indigenous people from all over turtle island! I had found my home.

2. What were your favorite courses or instructors during your undergraduate degree? What assignments or projects were highlights?

All of them! Deanna Redar and her in-depth lectures on story telling, she actually had Indigenous bookwriter EDEN ROBINSON come and guest lecture for one class!!!!! . Rudy Reimer/Yumks, he's a super star! My Instructor has his own TV Show!! His pride in his nation and his Traditional Knowledge makes class so interesting. Eldon Yellowhorn took the time to integrate his traditional language into our classrooms and had the patience with us even when it took a few of us time to learn the pronunciations. Marianne Ignace was a directed study Instructor for me but she was very knowledgeable and so kind. Annie Ross became my friend, she is a powerful presence and has much to share, not only did I learn how to make a star blanket for the MMIW families, carved on cedar, weaved a basket, I learned the significance and background of each precious item. June Scudeler is hilarious! Her quirky manner is contagious, I constantly found myself in awe of her vast amount of online resources and knowledge. I had Robert Bandringa for one course and I really enjoyed the outdoor projects we were assigned, I learned a lot about the local Indigenous plants and enjoyed our guest speakers. Jeannie Morgan is so kind and sweet, I enjoyed her class as she felt like more like a friend, and someone to have an intellectual conversation with rather than a general lecturer.

3. What extracurricular activities or campus clubs did you participate in during your time at SFU? What event or activity are you most proud of contributing to?

I think I felt most proud when I got to sit around the big drum with the First Nations Student Association, we had a guest come and teach us a few songs and we sang and sang until we got the hang of some favorite songs. I really enjoyed that. Also I would hang out in the Indigenous Student Centre and participate in beading, drum making, and I once sat in the ISC for 7 hours to make my very own cedar hat! I now have a cedar hat to wear to ceremonies.

4. What are your short or long term goals, now that you are finished your degree?

I was accepted into UBC immediately after I received my final grades at SFU. I am currently taking my Masters of Education, In Educational Administration and Leadership and will graduate June 2021 at UBC with a masters degree!

My current educational goals;

  • to explore new activities
  • engage actively in course work
  • research each subject fully

Future goals for myself;

  • To become an Instructor, and teach Indigenous Studies/Criminology Simon Fraser University & Nicola Valley Institute of Technology

5. What has been the key to your success? Can you offer any advice or words of wisdom and encouragement to new undergraduate students in your field?

You're going to fail, but the key is to get back up. I am a survivor of 'Back on Track'. I found myself on academic probation a time or two and wanted to quit many a time. I ugly cried really hard some days, but after my pity party I would think of my matriarchs, my grandmothers, my strength, dust myself off and email Phil Cunningham for guidance and he would set me back on the right path.

There are so many resources to turn to at SFU I will consider SFU my family for life. I will cherish my first day of classes, my failures, teachings, and the pride I feel when I walk those SFU halls. If you see Gary George from the OAP wandering the halls, you’ve immediately made a new friend, his "hey how are ya" sure make for a welcoming environment.

Kúkwstum̓ckacw (Thank you) SFU Department of Indigenous Studies. 

Naomi Narcisse St'at'imc Nation
(Life long learner)