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Conversations with Indigenous Students: Mercy La Bossiere
In celebration of National Indigenous History Month, SFU Publishing has taken the opportunity to connect with Indigenous students participating in our publishing minor courses. We are also delighted to acknowledge the involvement of students from SFU’s Indigenous University Preparation Pathway (IUPP), which serves as a bridge program to support Indigenous students' journey into SFU. Notably, Spring 2023 marked the inclusion of a Publishing course in the IUPP curriculum, signifying a crucial step forward in promoting Indigenous representation in the publishing field.
We also spoke to Indigenous students in our Master of Publishing (MPub) program, a 16-month graduate course in SFU's Faculty of Communication, Art, and Technology. This distinctive program is known for its innovative approach and dedication to encouraging future leaders in the publishing industry.
For this first edition of Conversations with Indigenous Students, we introduce you to IUPP student Mercy La Bossiere who is Métis, and of French and mixed European descent.
I would love to start our conversation by learning a bit about your background and your culture. What can you tell us?
I am Métis, but I wasn't connected to my roots until recently. In high school, Indigenous studies was added to the curriculum much later, and people were not as aware about Indigenous peoples and our histories back then. So, I was disconnected for a long time.
SFU has been a really amazing place for me because it gave me a chance to reconnect with my culture and engage with people who are Indigenous. Thinking back, it was really meaningful being a part of the IUPP cohort. Even though the program ended, I still talk to a lot of my classmates.
Before joining the IUPP program, I went to a few different high schools. Since I live in Ladner, I went to Delta Secondary School - which was huge. An Indigenous studies class that I ended up taking there in grade 9 was extremely intriguing. I'd never learned about our history, and it was definitely eye-opening.
We had circles at the start of the class where we introduced ourselves which I thought was interesting and new. I also had the opportunity to part take in fundraisers for Orange Shirt Day. Those experiences made me aware about things I had never learned.
You mentioned the IUPP. For people who have no knowledge about it, what is the purpose of the program? What led you to it?
I actually didn't know about the program and only learned about it during a conversation I had with my (former) high school teacher. When he mentioned the IUPP, it sounded exactly like something I had been looking for. Although I was unsure about what major I wanted to pursue afterwards, I knew I wanted to try different things.
The IUPP allows you to have the same classmates for all your classes. Whether it is figuring out an obstacle or getting used to university, you can depend on each other a lot more. You also meet other students in your IUPP classes.
For instance, the PUB101 class, which was part of the IUPP, had students from other programs. I actually enjoyed it a lot because it was much larger*, as compared to my other classes, and I thought it was useful and important to experience in my first year.
*In PUB 101 the IUPP students attended the same classes and tutorials as regular SFU students.
Suzanne (Norman) shared that she enjoyed working with you this spring. Can you tell us about MindMediaRes - the website that you created in her PUB101 class (which was, of course, part of the IUPP curriculum) and the inspiration behind it?
Yeah, that was my favourite part! It was really fun customizing the website. I used a minimalistic approach with the design. Initially, I was inspired by the phrase “In Media Res”, but I also wanted to incorporate “mind” in the title to show that the content was based in psychology. I really enjoyed the mini assignments and blog posts we made on our websites throughout the course.
Psychology and personality theory has been an interest of mine for a long time. In the past, I would tell my friends how I wanted to write about and address these things, but that I had no outlet or space to do that. So, PUB101 gave me the chance to put together a lot of my ideas that I had been thinking about for a long time.
Being on the internet, as a teenager, I stumbled on to these websites and I just wanted to learn more and more. I would research it constantly. It was one of the only things that stayed with me over the years. At first, I was drawn to astrology, but over time my interests developed and they evolved into different things.
I was able to use personality theory as a tool, through the work that we did, to understand myself and others on a more deeper level and maybe find different ways to connect with people.
Was there anything else in the IUPP program that stood out or was meaningful to you?
The EDUC 199 class, which was also in spring of this year. I found it to be really enjoyable because we got to talk about our personal experiences. It was life writing. When you’ve typically been discouraged from talking about personal things in most writing courses, this course was a real change. At first, I was being too formal with my work, but then I eventually became more relaxed. It was a healing process for me to be able to do that.
Our teacher tried to make everyone feel as comfortable as possible. You didn’t have to talk about something you didn’t want to, so that was really nice. There was this one time we went to the Vancouver Art Gallery to see the Haida artist Robert Davidson's work. We had the opportunity to discuss his art pieces and what it meant to us. We would also go for walks in the forest or on small field trips - I loved every bit of it.
Aside from the academic structure, the IUPP enables Indigenous students to build close relationships with elders and other Indigenous faculty members, which I think is incredibly special. Were you able to experience any of that?
So, I took up many extracurricular activities. My involvement with the First Nations, Métis and Inuit Student Association allowed me to have a sense of community. After events, many of us would go to their rooms and spend time together. I got to know most of them very well. Since a lot of the student association members were unaware about the (IUPP) program, we would talk to them about classes that we were doing as well.
I also did the Cultural Connections program with the Indigenous Student Centre (ISC), which was great. I got to meet like all the staff members from there. Sometimes, the elders would visit the ISC. Kim, who was the assistant with the program, and later the main coordinator, helped us a lot. Funnily, she joined our discord group and constantly made sure to keep us on the loop, especially regarding events.
When I go back to SFU in the fall as an FASS student, I plan on continuing to volunteer and engage with these Indigenous resources. Since the IUPP ended, I won’t have the cohort to lean on, but I am glad that I found other support systems during the program.
Going back to your time in PUB101, using a psychological lens to work on assignments for a publishing course sounds super interesting! Overall, how was your experience?
After our class ended, Suzanne would actually come by the IUPP office just in case any of us needed help with setting up the website. In the beginning, trying to pick a name was extremely troubling. I wanted something easy and recognizable so people remember it.
Once I decided on the name, I installed WordPress. I wanted to do more with it than just settling for the default theme. So, I spent a lot of time doing some research and I found one with a dark mode with an on and off switch - which I loved. At first, I was going to try and learn programming for this class, but then I realized I didn’t need to know it because the course was more about publishing about the self in everyday life.
Anyway, my blog topic was already complex, so I focused mainly on the weekly assignments. Sometimes, I’d stay back to help my classmates with their website. I was really invested in the coursework. In fact, I drew some of the graphics for the blog myself. Even though I love art, I could not make time for it when I started school. However, I was able to revisit my love for drawing through this course.
You mentioned that you will be joining SFU in the fall as a regular student. What have you been up to this summer? Any interesting projects or hobbies that you want to talk about?
I am working on making a video game right now! Writing the game is challenging, but doing the art work is great fun. Currently, I am learning how to code too. I am also busy doing a lot of sewing projects that I had actually started in Cultural Connections in the ISC - but it takes a long time to finish them.
The first time I did beading was in eleventh grade. I was making moccasins in highschool so that is how it all started. But yes, the the Cultural Connections program definitely helped me get into the habit of doing it consistently.
Yeah, I've worked on so many in the fall and the spring. I made an entire ribbon skirt with pockets. At one point, I had enough to wear a full outfit of it!
What is your goal moving forward? Do you have any plans, academically or otherwise, for the future?
For now, I just want explore all the courses that SFU offers since I don’t have any experience with a lot of them. Hopefully, I will declare my major before I get the 60 credits, which I think is what they recommend students do. I don’t know what that will be right now, but I plan to talk to advisors and get some guidance.
This was exactly what that the IUPP helped us with. Given that it is a preparation program, you are made aware of all these resources and opportunities that you can take advantage of as a new student preparing to transition into the university. so I got a lot of good advice from that about what resources to take advantage of right away.
As far as my experience in the program goes, I am extremely happy that I was able to get a lot of good advice.
Do you have any advice for students, especially young Indigenous students?
I highly recommend the Indigenous University Preparation Pathway (IUPP) program to everyone who is new. Before you join the university as a regular student, the IUPP allows you to get to know all your classmates well. You keep up with them even after the program, and it's a great way to make university life less intimidating. Getting connected with the Indigenous Student Centre (ISC) and all of the other Indigenous student groups, on campus, is a great way for you to figure out what you might like. You get to experience a variety of things, you get to know your teachers more closely, and it is very welcoming. For anyone interested in going to SFU, take the IUPP program!
We also spoke with Suzanne Norman, Lecturer, Industry Liaison and Director of Publishing Workshops at SFU Publishing, about the importance of empowering and encouraging (young) Indigenous voices within publishing and why offering a publishing course as part of the IUPP was a step in the right direction.
“The past semester's inclusion of IUPP students in PUB 101 was an incredibly enriching experience for all involved. Historically, our publishing classes have had limited enrollment from Indigenous students, contributing to the long-standing subjugation of and indifference to Indigenous publishing in Canada.
However, the inclusion of a publishing course in the IUPP curriculum breathed new life into the PUB 101 classroom, fostering a vibrant and enriching learning environment.
For example, having Indigenous perspectives present during discussions on the Canadian Copyright Act had a profound impact on deepening our understanding and fuelling more comprehensive conversations. By highlighting how Indigenous Intellectual Property is excluded or compromised under current laws, these perspectives provided valuable insights and prompted a more nuanced exploration of the topic.
Providing more Indigenous students with access to publishing courses paves the way for increased opportunities to effect change within the existing publishing industry. As these students graduate and assume positions in publishing, they have the power to drive transformation or, even better, establish fully owned and operated Indigenous publishing houses and programs.
Looking ahead, we sincerely hope that PUB 101 continues to be an available option for the IUPP or any other bridge or pathway program. Our hope is to see a progressive increase in the number of Indigenous students participating in our program, further fostering an inclusive and representative future for the world of publishing.”
At SFU Publishing, we recognize the importance of inclusivity and diversity, and we are committed to creating a platform that honours and showcases Indigenous voices and stories. We believe that by actively engaging with Indigenous students and supporting their aspirations in publishing, we can collectively contribute to a more inclusive and representative publishing landscape.
To see the website that Mercy created in PUB101, go here.
To learn more about our undergraduate minor program, go here.