Award-winning undergrad finds her purpose

Undergrad Leah Hrycun discusses her time with the Faculty of Native Studies.

Jordan Cook - 7 May 2018

When Leah Hrycun decided to go back to school, she knew she needed a change. The Anthropology graduate had been working as a legal assistant for 13 years, but knew it wasn't what she wanted to do for the rest of her life. "I realised if I actually wanted to do something different, I needed to make a change and go to university, get the connections that I needed, build my network, and start working towards where I actually want to be," she explained.

Speaking with Leah the week after her award-winning presentation on Decolonizing the Classroom: Incorporating Land-Based Pedagogy in Canadian Universities at the Festival of Undergraduate Research and Creative Activities (FURCA), and shortly before she graduates, she was reflective of the path she's taken on her way to her after-degree with the Faculty of Native Studies.

Coming back to school, she intended to build upon her archaeology background and pursue material culture conservation. She decided to augment that with a course on repatriation and intellectual property, taught by Dr. Sean Robertson. "Repatriation is something that I've always been very interested in and very passionate about. So when that was being offered, I really jumped at the opportunity to take that class," she said.

Once in Dr. Robertson's class, Leah had what some might call an 'a-ha moment': "I think within the first week of taking that class I was like 'Oh my goodness, my whole plan has changed, this is exactly where I need to be, I've found my niche, and this is really what I want to pursue'".

Hrycun, a non-Indigenous student, is quick to point out how valuable Indigenous studies are for everyone, regardless of their background. "I think that in a lot of respects, especially for non-Indigenous people, our worldview is so narrow and we don't even know it, because it's the dominant culture, we're never questioned on why we think the way we think and what we value, so I think by studying in the Faculty of Native Studies and taking Native Studies courses, you're really presented with a counter-narrative to your own. That things aren't what they seem, that sometimes the things that you think are normal are totally not normal, and that you really need to question them."

Finding her purpose is exactly why Hrycun came back to school, and she doesn't intend to stop now. Next year, she will be a Master's student in the Faculty of Native Studies, with Dr. Nathalie Kermoal as her advisor. But the lessons she's learning she will take her far beyond the walls of Pembina Hall.

"I think the critical thinking skills that you gain with a Native Studies degree are transferable no matter where you go in life, the ability to look at anything and really critique what's going on there...I think that's one of the most valuable skills."