The classroom is just the start of a true education

Community-based learning experiences persuaded Matana Skoye to become an intersectional feminist and Indigenous ally

Donna McKinnon - 12 June 2017

From provincial hockey champion to feminist advocate, Matana Skoye has assumed many roles while studying for a BA in political science, but none have been more personally satisfying than her work outside of the classroom.

Growing up in a family of hockey players (her sister Jayden played for the Pandas), Skoye had no academic direction in mind when she began her studies as an "athlete-student" at MacEwan, but when a political science instructor recommended that she read The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir - which addresses the treatment of women throughout history-everything changed.

"I actually went to university because of hockey," she says. "I randomly took the political science course, and [the professor] really made me fall in love with the subject, and with feminism. It really opened up a lot of doors for me."

Transferring to UAlberta because it offered a women's and gender studies program, Matana began to see herself as a "student-athlete," fundamentally changing how she approached her studies. She chose political science as her major because she believed it would provide a foundation in political philosophy and, along with courses in women's and gender studies and sociology, deepen her knowledge of feminist theories.

In her third year at UAlberta, in partnership with Community Service-Learning and the YWCA, Matana worked as a facilitator with GirlSpace, an empowerment program for girls ages 11 to 14. While she singles this out as her most "awesome" UAlberta experience-especially in terms of its positive impact on the girls - it is just one example of her commitment to creating meaningful learning experiences for herself and others in the community.

The self-described intersectional feminist believes that she has "a responsibility to listen and learn from people who are marginalized," which includes challenging oppressive institutions and taking every opportunity to affect positive change.

One of these opportunities was with an Arts Work Experience co-op placement as a communications assistant with Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC), which required to move out of province to Gatineau, Quebec for a term. She said it dramatically increased her confidence, adding that "if I can move across the country to a new big city where I don't know anyone, what else can I accomplish?"

The INAC position was not her first experience with Indigenous communities. Shortly after transferring to UAlberta, Matana worked as a student facilitator with the Métis Life Skills Journey Program. Working directly with youth on Métis settlements on issues such as self-esteem and bullying, she credits the program with deepening her understanding of the history of Indigenous communities in Canada.

"Being an Indigenous ally is committing to lifelong learning," she says. "I think if you approach it from a listening way, with an eagerness to learn and an eagerness to support, I think that's a good starting point. It's a relationship you are continuously navigating."

Matana recently rejoined the program in a new role as program assistant, developing training methods for new facilitators, but is open to whatever comes next.

"Just knowing my last couple of years and how I was able to land in different jobs and find different opportunities, knowing how those came about-it's almost silly to worry. In the end, opportunities will arise, you just have to meet them."

This story also appeared in WOABlog.