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Anishinaabe Students Share Success Stories

Deb Pine and Christine Sy pursued a post-secondary education at Algoma U as mature students. They hope to inspire others who may be apprehensive about the challenge of going back to school.

Pine obtained a degree in Community Economic and Social Development (CESD) with a minor in sociology from Algoma U. Graduating cum laude in June 2013, she is now working toward a masters degree in geography at the University of Toronto.

Originally from Garden River First Nation, Pine chose Algoma U for its ideal location and high-quality learning environment. “Algoma U was close to home and it had an interesting program. I wanted to be able to make a difference in my community and the CESD degree was right for me.”

Pine says the people at Algoma U helped contribute to her success. “The professors and the Anishinaabe staff were great. I had a variety of challenging classes in my program, from sociology to economics. The Anishinaabe staff always had time not only for me, but also for other students. I made lifelong friends and learned how to excel in an academic environment.”

Pine wants to work with Anishinaabe Elders in the future, expressing her deep appreciation for their vast knowledge and their cultural importance.

“No amount of degrees I could ever obtain could come close to what my mother and father or my aunts and uncles know. The knowledge they have of the land is contained in Anishinaabemowin (Ojibwe language). Our Elders carry all of this knowledge and experience and I want to share what they have taught me and continue to teach me.”

Pine says Algoma U provides students with many opportunities to embrace, celebrate and learn about Anishinaabe culture through its talking circles, teachings, visiting Elders and classes like Anishinaabemowin and those offered by Shingwauk Kinomaage Gamig. Algoma U also holds an annual pow wow and often hosts expert craftspeople for beading or basket-making classes.

Sy graduated from Algoma U in 2006 with a bachelor of arts degree in Anishinaabemowin. She is now obtaining a PhD in indigenous studies from Trent University. She is currently participating in a pre-doctoral dissertation fellowship in American Indian Studies at Michigan State University.

Sy chose Algoma U specifically because of its three-year Anishinaabemowin degree, the only one of its kind in Canada. She appreciates that Algoma U actively engages with Anishinaabe peoples, cultures and acknowledges the colonial history.

“There are no words to describe the benefit of being Anishinaabe in your homeland and attending an institution that, in my experience, actively strives to ensure their space is not only ethical, but also generative for both Anishinaabe and non-Anishinaabe students.”

Sy attended Algoma U while working full-time and balancing life as a new mom. She values the support and contributions of all of her professors and continues to be inspired by what she learned from Howard Webkamigad, Rolland Nadjiwon, Rosalie Favell and the late Dr. Alanna Bondar.

She especially enjoyed participating in the creation of Algoma Ink, a juried journal of creative writing, including poems, short stories and creative non-fiction. This publication was developed under the guidance of Dr. Bondar.

Sy also took part in the Poetry Slam for two years and describes it as a memorable, transformative and fun experience.  She says Dr. Bondar’s creative writing courses continue to influence her own writing, performance and teaching.

Written by: Melanie Nolan

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