Overcoming barriers with Indigenous excellence

Darylina Powderface has a complicated relationship with education. Her parents both attended Indian Day Schools, and never completed high school. For Powderface, dealing with the perceptions and attitudes of others during her studies has been a barrier that she has had to overcome.

“The last institution that I attended and graduated from, they told me that they thought I was going to be the first one to quit and leave. They didn’t think I could finish,” she says. It motivated her to complete her degree, to show her family and community that it was possible.

“I think one of the most important things that I’ve learned was just getting up there, on stage or in front of class, and allowing myself to fumble my words or fail, because I discovered that through failure, there is always a take away, a lesson that is learned, and sometimes something good comes out of failure.”

The Theatre Performance program at SFU challenged her in surprising ways. “I went in thinking I was going to build more on my acting skills,” she says, “instead, this program really pushed me out of my comfort zone, and opened up an opportunity for me to grow as an artistic creator.” Some highlights? Directing a full-length play, Thy Neighbours Wife by Tara Beagan, performing in an interdisciplinary, collaborative performance of Topophilia, by Steven Hill, and getting the chance to try out other art forms, like electro-acoustic composition.

She also had the chance to contribute to the Skoden Indigenous Film Festival [], where she took on multiple roles, including community engagement, reaching out to an Elder to do a welcoming, and selecting films for the program. “This was near the time of the beginning of the lockdown of the pandemic,” she recalls, “so when we were told to stay home and attend classes online, we didn’t think that there would be a festival. The highlight of this was how everyone in the class came together, and put our ideas forward, and we adapted and continued on with the festival, online of course.”

It hasn’t always been easy. Education in Canada has a long history of links to colonialism and SFU still has a ways to go toward undoing that legacy. There were times during her degree that Powderface struggled with systemic or direct racism.

“I want to acknowledge that I got myself through it, with the support of my loved ones, my ancestors and Ade Waka Taka/Apistatoki.”

“I am not proud because I received a piece of paper with my name on it and the level of education that I received. I am proud because of Indigenous excellence!”