Striving To Make Change for Generations to Come

For many at the University of Alberta, Shana Dion is a friendly and familiar presence on campus. She only started as the Assistant Dean…

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For many at the University of Alberta, Shana Dion is a friendly and familiar presence on campus. She only started as the Assistant Dean (First Nations, Métis and Inuit Students) in January, but she was the Director of the Aboriginal Student Services Centre, now known as First Peoples’ House, for 9 years before that. Catching up with her a few months into her new position, it’s clear that despite her new role, her priorities have remained constant. For Dion, it’s still all about heart, caring, and working for the students.

How is the experience so far?How is the experience so far?

This is something I never envisioned for myself, so I’m taking every day as an opportunity to learn more about this university when it comes to governance structures, and being able to have the support of other Assistant Deans. I take this as an amazing learning opportunity, and taking one day at a time. I just see it as a blessing, I’m thankful, I’m excited, I have a lot of emotions when it comes to this position because I just never saw this for me. I’m really excited and to be honest there’s so much possibility and responsibility I just want to stay grounded. Grounding comes with keeping in mind our students wellbeing and the impact we can make for the next seven generations still yet to come.

How do you think your time as the Director of First Peoples’ House (formerly ASSC) will influence and inform your work?How do you think your time as the Director of First Peoples’ House (formerly ASSC) will influence and inform your work?

Not knowing that this position was going to come along, I felt like my 9 years at First Peoples’ House gave me the knowledge, the insight, the grounding, and the vision to see things a little bit more intimately. So I believe it was integral that I did that journey, to now seeing a larger vision. My heart will always be in First Peoples’ House.

What’s on your radar for your first year as an Assistant Dean?What’s on your radar for your first year as an Assistant Dean?

I really want to focus on understanding trauma in students’ lives and working through that trauma so that they can get more grounded, understand who they are, and keep moving forward. What I have come to know is, if one does not understand their personal trauma or historical trauma it can have impact on their daily life. Our students’ journeys can be of self-discovery, reconciliation, or restoration of their life. What I have seen over the years, is that our students’ need that understanding, which is why I want to focus on providing historical trauma training in partnership with Native Counselling Services of Alberta to bring forth that knowledge and clarity for them. My work is to ensure that our First Nation, Métis and Inuit students are never left behind again in their knowing and their understanding of historical trauma within the Canadian context. I hold a lot of respect for the students that choose to walk their journey at the U of A, it is a big journey and I want to honour that.

How do you feel about being the first Assistant Dean (First Nations, Métis and Inuit Students) in Canada?How do you feel about being the first Assistant Dean (First Nations, Métis and Inuit Students) in Canada?

If this is truly the first, that would be commendable for the U of A. And more importantly to acknowledge that the U of A has provided me, an Iskwew (a Cree woman), with this opportunity to create change. I feel an enormous sense of responsibility to get things right, however knowing that if I fail, well I better fail forward and keep moving in that forward direction as I am not only accountable to the U of A but I am also accountable to my community, Kehewin Cree Nation.

What are your plans moving forward?What are your plans moving forward?

I really feel like everything happens for a reason. Because I came from nothing, I appreciate everything. This opportunity is something that I will truly appreciate not only now but from years to come. Ultimately, we are striving to make change for the next seven generations. And every day if I wake up with the thoughts of how can I make a student’s life better, or change a student’s life, or even save a student’s life — that’s the kind of energy I’m giving. There is far greater good and joy from serving others and seeing others survive through their personal storms and thrive on the other side! We walk this journey with our students and that’s the part I love the most, seeing our students thrive on campus to then cross Convocation stage smiling or crying, whichever it may be. My work is hard work, but it is also heart work. It comes from the heart and I want to just do the best that I possibly can with the means that I have.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity

Jordan Cook — Communications Associate, Faculty of Native Studies and Marketing and Communications (University Relations)

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Jordan Cook is a Communications Associate with the Faculty of Native Studies and the office of Marketing and Communications. Before coming to the University of Alberta in 2017, she worked as a communications and digital literacy specialist at Yellowhead Tribal College for 5 years. Jordan has an M.L.I.S. from Dalhousie University.