Family support made a big difference for grads
- Sophia Lagimodiere | July 19, 2021
Perseverance and a strong support system are key to achieving education goals, say two recent graduates.
Larissa Burnouf, who has a BA in Sociology, recently graduated with a Law degree and a Certificate in Indigenous Governance and Politics. She achieved this milestone while raising her two children and working full-time as the Communications Director of FSIN.
“I’m not going to lie, I cried (when I graduated). I totally bawled my face off,” said Burnouf. “I’ve always known since I was a little girl that I wanted to be a lawyer.”
Burnouf says she wouldn’t have been able to get through law school on her own and is grateful for the everyday little things that kept her motivated, like classmates sharing notes when she had to go pick up her son, mentors reassuring her when she felt like she would never finish school, and Papa showing up with a bag full of groceries when she needed to study.
“My dad always told me, if you’re not sick, dead or dying, you better be working or going to school. So that work ethic has always been there,” said Burnouf.
Being a mother also kept her determined throughout her studies.
“When you’re a mom, it’s different. I think that’s what prepared me the most for law school because when you have a newborn baby, it doesn’t matter how tired, or sick, or sore, or anything you are. You have to get it done, or that baby’s not going to make it. It gives you that instinctual motivation to not give up because this person is depending on you,” said Burnouf.
Burnouf recalls breastfeeding the day she wrote her law school admission test, having to rush out of class when her son got hurt at school and taking her kids with her to her night class.
“I’ve literally taken my kids to a night class. I have my son on his iPad with his headphones on and my baby girl colouring beside me as I tune into a night class, and that professor didn’t say a word. It’s that kind of community that helps you,” said Burnouf.
She is articling at Sunchild Law and preparing for the Bar exam and plans to go to Harvard next May to take an Executive Education Program, which was postponed during the pandemic.
“The day after I graduated, I actually looked at (my friend), and I'm like, ‘who the hell just gave me a law degree?’ Right, so that that will never go away. It is always, you're in the back of your mind like ‘I’m not good enough to do this’,” said Burnouf. “But you know what, you're doing it, you've got in, you're still going.
“There are thousands of Métis and First Nations kids that are going to be like ‘no we can't do it, we grew up on the rez,’ or ‘no we can't do it we grew up in poverty.’ You're showing them that they can.”
Kennedy Halcro, recent BA Education graduate and valedictorian, just finished a part-time contract teaching at École River Heights School. She feels fortunate to have attended the Saskatchewan Urban Native Teacher Education Program (SUNTEP). Having classmates who shared the same family values and heritage helped her with her studies and becoming more in touch with her roots, she said.
Halcro said she grew up with people doubting her abilities, telling her that she would never be successful in school. This narrative lit a fire within her to prove them wrong.
“(I said) I can do this no matter how hard it is. I will go to university. I will graduate. I will go on to do my dream career. Because as long as I’ve got the drive to do it, I can pursue it,” she said.
Halcro struggled with an undiagnosed learning disability throughout elementary and high school, never receiving any accommodations or help. It was not until her last month of grade twelve that she was diagnosed with dyslexia.
“I was going to my SUNTEP interview (and) my mom called me, and she’s like ‘hey, you just got your results back,’” said Halcro. “I started crying.”
“It’s good to have the proof because, of course, I was struggling all by myself,” she said. “It’s definitely something I’ve always kept with me because I’m going to grow up to be a teacher who is going to have students just like me.”
Grade 12 was also when Halcro learned about her Métis roots after writing an essay on Louis Riel in her Native Studies class. She learned her maternal grandmother (Yiayia) had married a Greek man, learned the language, and joined the community. Growing up, Halcro always thought her Yiayia was Greek.
“It was kind of pushed out of them, really,” she said. “At the time... it was something that people were trying to hide all the time. Like with my grandma, she pulled off Greek really easily.”
She praises SUNTEP for helping her get in touch with her identity and roots, and opening her up to new ways of thinking and knowledge, which she can now bring with her into the classroom.
“A big challenge, I think a lot of people in SUNTEP face, is colourism. Because we’re Métis, but we pass off as white, we don’t always get the same appreciation. So if I tell someone, ‘hey, I’m Métis,’ they would fight me on it like, ‘no you’re not, you got blue eyes and pale skin,’” said Halcro. “I’m like, ‘no, I am, here is my story, I’m Métis.’ It is more my history than anything else.”
In Halcro’s second year of SUNTEP, her class went on a history trip to Winnipeg, where they looked at the Hudson’s Bay Company Archives. Everyone around her was finding old records to help pull their Métis history together. Already struggling with her identity, she couldn’t find anything.
On the last day of the trip, she looked at Louis Riel’s sash on display at the Saint-Boniface Museum and read a plaque underneath honouring her ancestor, Margaret Halcro. She was rewarded with Louis Riel’s sash for helping hide him in her cellar while he was on the run from the North-West Mounted Police.
“On my last day of learning about all my heritage, I found out this significant piece of information that I share with my students all the time now because I think it is pretty impressive,” Halcro said.
Halcro hopes that SUNTEP become more well-known among other Métis who don’t know their family histories, as she has been able to bond over her Métis identity and create life-long friendships.
“I’ve been with the same crew for the past four years, and that’s really helped me with my education. You always ask for your friends to help because they’re really your family,” Halcro said.