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My experience with the Indigenous Student Centre

December 2, 2020

Ryan Laurie, Bachelor of Commerce (Honours) Alumnus

My name is Ryan Laurie, I am a recent graduate of Commerce (Honours) from Ontario Tech University, and I am part of the Abenaki nation from the side of Montreal. I am a part of the Indigenous Student Centre, which offers a home away from home for Indigenous students and space for students to connect with Indigenous culture and resources.

Tell me about your thoughts before engaging with the Indigenous Centre on campus and what obstacles you faced.

“The biggest obstacle I faced was the feeling that I was not Native enough, I do not have my status card therefore I felt as if I didn’t have a leg to stand on. This was the biggest reason why I felt like I wasn’t able to participate or be a part of the Indigenous centre. However, that’s far from the case, the Indigenous Student Centre, specifically Caol and Jill have been bracing warmth and given me every opportunity. They have shown me that you do not have to have your status card to be involved with the Indigenous Centre. It’s more about awareness and everyone gaining knowledge and as much knowledge as we can pass around that benefits everyone in the community.”

Why did you decide to take that step of overcoming the obstacle?

“During my fourth year, I was more engaged in school, fast forward to the pandemic I had a lot of free time on my hand, I reached out to see if there was anything I would be able to provide with my free time by volunteering. I started out with the Kids Connect videos providing information on traditional native knowledge to native and non-native kids mostly non-native children. Beyond that, it has blossomed into being a part of the Reconciliation Task Force as well as the Indigenous Education Advisory Circle. So far it has been a highly amazing experience. The Indigenous Centre has not only helped within the campus but also provided me with contacts for potential jobs as well as volunteer and career opportunities. I can not speak highly enough of everyone in the Indigenous Centre, it’s a tight-knit community, and once you join you really regret not joining earlier. Even though I have graduated I will still be a part of this and make my presence felt as much as possible.”

Any advice for Indigenous students coming in? 

“Make that first step, send an email, and reach out to the Indigenous Centre. Reach out to Carol or Jill. The minute you receive an email back you will feel welcomed. Whether it’s going to do some homework there or it’s going to participate in the traditional native activities. All of these are beneficial and would provide an enriching university experience for everyone”

What is next for you? 

“I just accepted a job with TD for commercial banking and I will be working within the Halton Region providing assistance to small businesses attempting to gain financing. This was something I realized I wanted to do while working with the Indigenous Centre that I wanted to help the community by using my background by helping small businesses and providing them with the tools to become successful. I believe that it’s something I will be able to do beginning with my career. I owe a lot of that to the Indigenous Center.”

Your voice is so valued at the institution when you have space to actually share your ideas. Would you like to elaborate more on that?

“Absolutely, so during the course of my time with the Indigenous Centre, I have been able to participate in many different committees. One of which is the Reconciliation Task Force and I didn’t realize I would be one of the only students sitting on the Task Force. There are representatives from the Dean’s office and from many different faculties. So going into it I kind of thought I’m just here to listen and provide my comments on different aspects. I did not think they would take my voice seriously but it was far from the case. Jill and Carol asked me for recommendations about the Task Force and I gave them a list saying the native presence of the north campus is severely underrepresented. This is being taken into consideration and they are going to be making changes going forward. This is one thing I was surprised about how valued my voice is in these discussions. Even though, I am a recent graduate they take my advice and put it into consideration and not disregard it. They completely involve you in the discussions and you understand the scope of the decisions and the rationale behind them. It is a very interesting and valuable experience for a young adult like myself for being in committees that are making multi-million dollar decisions. Like I said previously,  I can not speak highly enough of the Indigenous Centre and all the experiences they provided for me.”

How have Indigenous experiences and discussions prepared you for your work in a business setting? 

“Being involved with the Task Force and the discussions have prepared me tremendously for the launch of my career. First of all, when zoom meetings happen there are around 25 people usually and it’s quite intimidating to speak in that setting so when I had my interview with TD I had panel interviews so I was prepared for that by being in the Task Force.”

Do you have any final advice?

“For anyone who thinks they are not Native enough to join the Indigenous Centre, I challenge you to reach out whether it’s to myself or to the Indigenous Centre.”