Landscape Architecture, Indigenous Graduate Scholar
Why did you choose to complete your graduate studies in your program at the University of Guelph?
The U of G has a strong international reputation for educating leaders in landscape architecture. It is home to Canada's oldest and best LA program and I wanted to put myself in the best program there is while remaining in Canada. It was also a wonderful excuse to live in Eastern Canada for the first time and take an opportunity to explore parts of the country I have not been able to visit yet.
How did you end up here at Guelph?
It took me several years after my undergraduate degree (BFA, Art and Design) to figure out the right career path. Once I did it was clear that LA was, without out doubt, the right career for me. It combines everything I love, am interested in and passionate about. The most surprising part of my degree, so far, was when I decided it was time to start embracing my heritage. As soon as I did I experienced a wave of support seemingly out of the blue from my professors, classmates and the Indigenous Student Centre and visiting Elders. I'm very touched and grateful to so readily experience this support.
Do you have any advice or words of wisdom for a prospective grad student or someone who would like to follow in your footsteps?
I am 30 years old and am only now embracing being Metis. This is an emotional, and at times perplexing, journey. However, there is ample support these days for Indigenous people who are ready to take on this journey and many others who understand what you are going through and want to see you succeed. The U of G community has blown me away in terms of the cultivation of awareness, support and resources available to help students and this extends to services tailored for Indigenous students. Reach out to the community and ask for help or get involved, even in small ways. It might feel intimidating at first, but you will find there are many who understand you or are very willing to help you with your path. Have courage!
A bit about the work you are doing here...
I will be focusing my research on ecological grief and the role landscape architects can play in helping people cope with and move forward after such losses. Oddly, this work really lights me up! This research pulls together things that I never expected were possible in landscape architecture. From emotional and cultural sensitivity to questions about our relationship to nonhuman life and what sustainability means, many pieces are needed. It is by chance that I was introduced to this line of research in first year when one of my professors briefly mentioned it in class. However, as soon as I heard the words 'ecological' and 'grief' my antennae went up and I knew in my gut that, yup, this was for me. I know what it is like to grieve deep loss. I also know there is a way out and that there is always a reason to have hope. My hope is fiercely rooted in the resiliency of the natural world and I am working to protect it also. I think my work will contribute to helping both humans and nonhumans in a way that is new and emerging, but that will utilize many of my skills and knowledge.
How do you think your research (or the work you are doing at U of G) can potentially improve life?
Most people have never heard of ecological grief. However, with climate change rearing its ugly head there will be more and more reason to provide people with the tools needed to cope with or manage this 'new' form of grief and to move forward from it. I see this as an opportunity for us, as a society, to reassess our relationship with all the nonhuman life around us and how we value it. It also asks us to consider new or different worldviews and to understand how connected everything really is. At the end of the day we all want our home to remain in tact and healthy. Climate change is challenging this in very real and pressing ways. I hope I can help provide people some hope that they can make a difference for their home, community and what matters most to them.
What has receiving the Indigenous Graduate Scholarship meant to you?
I can not explain how much this scholarship means to me. I have barely told anyone in my life that I am Metis and to have this come my way opened a lot of doors for me and, more importantly, it started to crack open my heart. It gave me the courage to embrace who I am, to shake off the fear and shame from decades of repression of Indigenous people in Canada and to find the beauty in my heritage again. It also means I can eat enough. I do not have to stress about whether I will make it through the semester with food on my table or not. This alone is a game changer and allows so much more focus on my studies and research, things that I am very passionate about. My gratitude is immense!
Please comment on your academic relationship with your advisor
My advisor, Sean Kelly, has been amazing! He is very supportive of my ideas and thoughtful in helping me navigate my insecurities as well as my research challenges. His patience and support so far has been so helpful and I am really looking forward to getting into the depths of my research with him in my third year.
What do you plan to do after graduation? How has U of G helped you reach that goal?
I plan to take my research into practice and find the right places for me to continue evolving my research and helping those afflicted by ecological grief. I will need to work towards my professional license as well and gain experience in my field. However, I hope to continue research about ecological grief and landscape architecture wherever I find myself. If it was not for the U of G I would not have found this thread of research in the first place. I am very grateful to have been accepted into the MLA program (in the middle of a pandemic at that!) and to have this opportunity to shape a career that I love and ultimately that makes a difference for others.
What it is like to be a graduate student at U of G?
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic it has been amazing here! I am really impressed with the faculty members and staff that are so attentive to helping students not just academically but also emotionally and mentally. My cohort is the best group I could have asked for. I feel like I gained a family joining this program and, having moved across the country alone, it means a lot to have their support. The work is both rigorous and challenging but so rewarding, interesting and diverse. I have had the opportunity to stretch my mind, learn things I did not see coming, and learn from my peers and the knowledge and point of views they bring. I will definitely be graduating with more confidence and problem solving skills than when I walked in here.
About the U of G campus...
I haven't been able to spend much time on campus yet (thanks, COVID!) but it feels like it is always changing and reinventing itself, in a good way. I have heard many stories about this or that and how it has evolved over time. It retains its roots but presses forward to the future which is a delicate balance.
About the city of Guelph...
People are very friendly here and the locals seem very proud of their city. The autumn foliage is stunning and the focus on supporting locally produced goods is encouraging to see.