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Connecting with her identity inspires Indigenous Studies alumnus Paige Desjarlais to help her community
By Casey McCarthy
For Paige Desjarlais (BA, 2023), enrolling in Indigenous Studies at Simon Fraser University (SFU) provided meaningful opportunities to understand her values and identity as an Indigenous person, while also charting a path towards a fulfilling career.
“I am Indigenous on both sides of my family, with some European background,” says Desjarlais. “However, my grandfather was unable to pass much on to us because he went to residential school. Growing up, my family had to seek out education about being Indigenous. That is a major part of why I decided to minor in Indigenous Studies — to make my background an important part of my life.”
As she progressed towards achieving her degree, Desjarlais discovered that engaging with Indigenous knowledge also empowered her to reach her overall educational goals and make the most of her experience at university.
“The Indigenous approach to education is holistic — you are never just learning about one thing,” says Desjarlais. “The classroom environment is also unique because it is community-oriented. Be prepared to learn in a different way and to gain a new perspective that will add so much to how you approach your education.”
In this supportive classroom community, Desjarlais also found a space to reflect on ways she can act towards reconciliation and develop a reciprocal relationship with her community.
“I learned so much from my Indigenous Studies professor, Kicya7 Joyce Schneider,” says Desjarlais. “I felt challenged by learning how I can go about things in a good way for Indigenous people. I was able to think about ways I can mobilize what I learned in class to help my community — both in my life and my future career.”
Growing up, my family had to seek out education about being Indigenous. That is a major part of why I decided to minor in Indigenous Studies — to make my background an important part of my life.
Paige Desjarlais, Indigenous Studies alumnus
Understanding how she can personally contribute towards truth and reconciliation resonated with Desjarlais as a criminology major.
“Indigenous people are overrepresented in the criminal justice system,” says Desjarlais. “Using what I have learned from my Indigenous studies courses, I want to start a career where I can help Indigenous people who have been marginalized.” In her next chapter, Desjarlais is exploring career options related to law enforcement, border services, or the non-profit sector, where she can contribute her perspective and knowledge to help others.
During her time at SFU, Desjarlais also contributed to her community by volunteering with campus groups, including the Indigenous Studies Student Union (ISSU).
“I really enjoyed being part of a close-knit department, like Indigenous Studies,” says Desjarlais. “ISSU is a wonderful place for Indigenous students — or any students who are interested in Indigenous topics — to meet each other. You will also find opportunities to volunteer at Indigenous events and make a difference at the university.”
While what she learned resonated with Desjarlais as an Indigenous student, she believes that all undergraduate students at SFU will benefit from taking courses in Indigenous Studies.
“Indigenous knowledge is so valuable in our society and the current political climate,” says Desjarlais. “There is something for everyone — whether you are interested in the environment, history, law, or literature. Taking a course in Indigenous Studies will open your eyes to so many things.”