Distance studies okay, distance graduation, not so much
- Judith Iron | July 20, 2021
First Nations and Metis women have always demonstrated the ability to successfully multi-task. Managing homes, families, kids, jobs, bills and schedules all while studying, reading, and writing papers for university requires serious multi-tasking skills.
The 2020/21 university term was confusing and challenging for many students when the Corona Virus arrived. Not to be thwarted in their educational pursuits, these resilient women continued their studies and received degrees despite the ongoing pandemic.
Joanne Durocher of Canoe Lake Cree First Nation graduated from the University of Victoria in June with a Bachelor of Social Work. She was a full-time student when the pandemic hit. Like every summer break before, Durocher returned to her home community to work at the General Store owned by her sister, Terry Ann. When she learned classes would continue to be delivered remotely, she decided to remain in Canoe Lake.
As a single mom of four kids, the convenience of being able to earn, study, and care for her children at the same time was idyllic. Unfortunately, being a sole provider, a committed employee, and a university student living in a community that had a security gate was not always easy.
“Being a front-line worker during the lockdowns didn’t help. I was working double and sometimes triple time,” says Durocher, “Some days I would do double shifts and race home to do mom stuff then read and write a 15-page essay.”
Trying to work with other students online was hard because she was having conversations and doing group projects with people she couldn’t see. It was often difficult to reach students to participate in the work. On the home front, childcare was an issue. Trying to make ends meet and care for her children was often struggle, but the many sacrifices were worth it because she now holds a Social Work degree.
The downside of finishing university during COVID was receiving notice of such a huge accomplishment in the mail without a ceremony at the University. Durocher was disappointed she couldn’t be with her fellow classmates for the event.
“I received an email from University of Victoria stating that they will be inviting me to walk the stage sometime over the next three years,” she said.
Elaine Malbeuf is a Metis woman from Ile-À-La-Crosse who wanted to quit university many times over the years, but she persevered. Working hard through the pandemic, Malbeuf was happy to participate in a virtual graduation in June for her second master’s degree.
In 2015, Malbeuf earned her first master’s degree in Educational Leadership through Trinity Western University. She had worked in various leadership capacities since 2001 and admits she questioned herself before taking that opportunity.
“But, you know what? I did it!” she said.
Upon completing that degree, Malbeuf immediately applied for a Master’s program in Northern Governance and Development with Johnson Shoyma School of Public Policy at the University of Saskatchewan. The pandemic was not an obstacle for her.
“I was used to learning remotely so it didn’t really make a difference. The downside of all of this,” says Malbeuf, “is that I saw videos of previous celebrations and thought, ‘Wow,’ they were so awesome, especially for First Nations and Metis people. I wanted that, but COVID prevented it from happening for me. I was a little saddened, but I’m happy I got my degree.”
“I still don’t know what I’m going to be when I grow up,’ laughs Malbeuf, ‘but, I love learning so much I have actually already applied for a doctorate.”