First of all, I am a proud alumni of Mount Royal with a Diploma in Social Work back in 1994 and eventually, went on to obtain my Bachelor and Master of Social degrees from the University of Calgary, back in 1999 and 2004, respectively. As I have often stated that Mount Royal provided the tools for me to go out and do Social Work and as well the University of Calgary provided more tools for me too. I just started with the Child Studies and Social Work (CSSW) department as of September 2018 and entering my third month as an ‘Espoom taah’ or ‘helper’. I wanted to use a Blackfoot title to describe my work as well as getting away from titles such as, Indigenous Liaison worker or something that sounds more westernized as opposed to an Indigenous title. Basically, that is who I am at the CSSW department in providing the help that is needed within the context of indigenization. I brought in my education, my work experience and my life experience. I also brought in my Blackfoot language and my culture to share with my colleagues as well as students. I am fortunate to have retained my language even though after going through the residential school system where speaking your language was forbidden. However, I am still trying to re-claim my culture and re-connecting with it by being an astute listener and learner when older Blackfoot Elders talk about the culture and some of the old stories. I listen intently and write things down. I bring to MRU what I know about my culture and limited to only what I know. I always cite people that I heard certain things from and give them the credit. So also becoming an astute learner and listener in class leads to success as well as applying those to life. Blackfoot Elders often allude to the three L’s of looking, listening and learning. This is what we do on a daily basis during our lifetime. Remember that!
The reason I say, Nikoht kayii or I’m home is that I felt that Mount Royal College – when it was still a College – was like a second home to me because as students we spend a lot of time away from the comforts of our home in the various institutions that we are enrolled in. Back then, Mount Royal brought that feeling of providing that home comfort where it made my learning experience part and parcel of being able to finish my schooling. I had the support when I needed it and for this I am grateful to the institution. As students, we can’t expect to go through a 3-4 year term in a vacuum. We have to rely on support and MRU has a lot to offer as it has a genuine interest in seeing every student graduate. Oft times, we burn the midnight oil to get assignments done because at times, we do procrastinate or we tend to get wrapped up in extracurricular activities when we should be working on paper assignments. It is at times a huge learning curve even for some mature students like myself who entered Mount Royal in their 40’s. For me, if my mind can conceive it and my heart believes it, then I am able to achieve it. As a mature student back then, I had a lot of doubts manifesting out of my mind that I can’t do it but my heart overruled my thinking and my sincere believe that I can do it. I achieved it by walking on the stage to accept my Diploma in Social Work in 1994. Reflecting back on it, I was 46 years old when I got my Diploma and at 51 years of age, I got my Bachelor of Social Work and then at 56 years old I got my Master of Social Work degree. When I speak to students I often tell them not to let age be a barrier to what they can accomplish. Age is only a number. Remember that!
I owe a lot to this institution that gave me the privilege of studying to be a Social Worker. I came back to help in any way that I can based on my experience related to Social Work and other life experiences. To date, I feel that within the short few months that I have been with CSSW department I have accomplished what I can to help faculty and students. But there is more work to be done and I am up to the challenge. We need to connect “Anitopisi” or “spider web” across the campus and go and help whenever there is a vibration. We need to make this institution an institution of first choice to allow students to make their educational journey a pleasant and supportive one. I also owe a lot to three people that made my journey back to MRU possible. I owe it to Yasmin Dean and Stephen Price and Katharine McGowan to make it a reality for me to be able to “come home”. Yasmin for believing in my ability to help in the CSSW department and also for allowing me to color outside the lines; Stephen for supporting Yasmin’s idea to bring me on board as well as our bi-weekly coffee meetings. And Katharine for meeting with Stephen to support my role with CSSW department and always looking out for my best interests at heart. The departmental staff of CSSW gave me a warm welcome which solidified my role as an Espoom taah. I always had a dream of teaching in an institution when I got my Master of Social Work degree but doing other things related to my Siksika people who are important to me did not allow me to fulfill that dream. However, with my role as an ‘Espoom taah’ or ‘helper’, I am able to go into classes to share my life experience as well as Blackfoot teachings. I do guest lectures at the request of CSSW faculty and enjoy doing it because it is both rewarding and fulfilling.
Now I can honestly say, “Nikoht kayii” or, “I’m home”.
Roy Bear Chief, MSW
“Espoom taah” (Helper)