Métis woman first Indigenous PhD graduate from U of S SENS
- EFN Staff | December 05, 2018
The University of Saskatchewan’s School of Environment and Sustainability (SENS) celebrated their first Indigenous student that graduated with a PhD.
Métis Yvonne Vizina walked across the big stage at the U of S Fall Convocation on October 27th with her PhD in her hand after she successfully defended her doctoral dissertation, entitled Indigenous Knowledges and Sustainability in Post-Secondary Education. She is the first self-identified Indigenous student to earn her PhD from SENS since the school first enrolled students in 2008.
Her accomplishment is especially important to SENS because the school values and fosters its relationships with numerous Indigenous partner organizations and communities.
Vizina was happy when she was informed that she had achieved this milestone for the school.
“SENS was the perfect fit for me because I have always been very interested in the nexus of science and traditional Indigenous knowledges,” said Vizina in a media release. “It’s kind of bitter sweet…while I’m proud of the accomplishment, it’s also too bad that we are not seeing more Indigenous students choose careers in the environmental sciences.”
Born and raised in Saskatchewan, Vizina earned her bachelor’s and master's degrees at the U of S before completing her PhD at SENS. She has always been very interested in the nexus of science and traditional Indigenous knowledges, she said. During her time at SENS, she appreciated that the school’s teaching methods showed respect and appreciation for Indigenous ways of knowing.
“As a Métis student, I was certainly supported by SENS and there was never a moment where I felt that I could not express my own way of thinking or knowing,” she said. “I think, importantly, that SENS gave me the freedom to do the research that was important to me and find ways to nourish my learning spirit through the process.”
SENS professors and the school’s Indigenous Mentor, Anthony Blair Dreaver Johnston, who is a member of Mistawasis Nehiyawak, work to incorporate Indigenous knowledge of the land into the curriculum for all SENS students.
“The ancestral languages and teachings of Indigenous peoples contain so much important wisdom about how we are to live and behave in order to ensure the long-term survival of the planet,” she said.
Vizina’s research was supervised by Marcia McKenzie, a professor with the College of Education and an associate member of SENS. Her research was part of McKenzie’s Sustainability and Education Policy Network project that was funded through the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.
In the future, Vizina hopes to initiate a network of Indigenous people in post-secondary institutions across Canada to work together on sustainability issues in their regions.
“I think connecting classroom teachers with communities and post-secondary institutions provides a great opportunity to support each other and build capacity no matter where we are in Canada,” she said.
Her advice to other Indigenous students who want to get a university degree is to believe that you can succeed.
“Just picture yourself in the occupation that you are considering and believe that you will get there one day,” she said. “I would encourage anyone who wanted to pursue post-secondary education.”