From Project Go Ahead to Elder in Residence

My introduction to formal education was back in September of 1955 when at the age of seven (7) I attended an Anglican school called Old Sun Indian residential school. Without regret, I happily left the school in 1964 . The experience left a bad taste in my mouth and gave me the impression that education was not important. However, years later my late father’s words around the breakfast table kept resonating about the importance of education and his lecture about it. Especially, when we look at it as the replacement for the buffalo or inii in Blackfoot. Much like the inii or the buffalo that provided for Blackfoot people. Education is the new buffalo since it provided the necessities of life.

Dinosaurs aren’t extinct yet, as some are still walking around only in human form. The reason I’m saying this is that I have touched the inner sanctum of Mount Royal as I was one of the earlier forms related to “affirmative action”. Back in 1968, when Mount Royal College used to be in the downtown, where Kerby Seniors Centre is currently located, I was one of 15 individuals chosen to be in an Indian Affairs project called, Project Go Ahead”  which I believe is an earlier version of what some institutions around the City of Calgary have such as the Aboriginal Education Program (AEP), the Aboriginal Student Access Program (ASAP) or Bow Valley College’s Aboriginal Upgrading program.

I can recall August of 1968, when I was fortunate enough to get a temporary job on the reserve painting recently built houses. I was up on the roof and I saw a car pulling in and stopping beside the house. A lady stepped out of the car, looked up and asked for Roy Bear Chief. I told her that I was Roy and that I would come down to speak to her. She told me that my name was recommended by the Indian Agent office for a program called, Project Go Ahead. She talked a bit about the program and told me that if I was interested to show up at the Indian Affairs office in Calgary on a given date and time. I was certainly interested and I did show up. As a single person, I received $37.50/ week and out of that I was responsible for my room and board, bus tickets, etc.. Back then, transit fare was 10 cents/ride. Indian Affairs had arranged room and board placements for us in various homes around the city.  To be exact, the people chosen for the project were broken down as follows: Siksika had 6; T’suu T’ina or called Sarcee at the time had 4; Stoney had 1; Rocky Mountain House had 1; Metis had 2; and we had a Mi’kmaq from Nova Scotia. And if I’m not mistaken and to my knowledge, 6 have since passed away. I did complete the pilot project and enrolled at Mount Royal College in 1969 as a regular student in Business Administration but I didn’t finish and dropped out.

Some 26 years later, I graduated from Mount Royal with a Diploma in Social Work (1994) and am now a proud Alumni.

Fast forward another 23 years later, I am now an Elder in Residence for the Bissett School of Business.  

I went to get my key at the Security Services and as I was walking over there, an overwhelming sense of disbelief came over me and I suddenly realized that I am no longer a student but a staff member of MRU as an Elder in Residence. Humbled and proud, yet these feelings from my time at residential school were manifesting again as I felt that I didn’t deserve the position and still felt that I was not good enough to be in this position. I ask, why me? What is it that I can contribute that is important because I don’t feel important? Sometimes people have to realize that some of us survivors fight with our inner emotions usually on a daily basis questioning our capability as well as our self-worth. We become our own worst enemy and sometimes I don’t put up a fight.

Whether I am or feel fossilized or not, I have an opportunity to assist in re-shaping Mount Royal University’s vision for its Indigenous students. Mount Royal has evolved from a College into a University and I have evolved from an Indian Affairs pilot project called, “Project Go Ahead” to my role as an Elder in Residence.