Amanda Myers sees the job as being all about relationships – building them, maintaining them and growing them.
“Sometimes I have struggled with standing up for the relevance of Indigenous knowledge, ways of learning and understanding – even pushing back a little bit on some of the things that are just assumed within academia,” said Myers, who was named Director of the Indigenous Student Centre in June. “Just because this is how we’ve done something, forever and ever, doesn’t mean it’s the best way to do it.
“It’s been encouraging in the last couple years because I have developed some genuine relationships in allyship across campus. It’s encouraging for people to come to you and say, with great humility, ‘I don’t know what I should do, or need to do, or how to do it, and we need your help and guidance.’”
Offering “holistic student support based on the values of helping and serving through Indigenous ways of knowing,” Myers sees her new role as offering assurances, supports and confidence to her team and students alike that the work being done in her office is valued by all.
“The daily impact we have on our students, along with how we see our students develop new relationships and grow, is beautiful,” she said. “We are fortunate we get that daily gratification out of the work we do.”
Formerly Indigenous Support Services, the recent name change to Indigenous Student Centre puts more of focus on its mission to support students, and moves away from the general public’s confusion of not knowing it was a university-based centre. Myers would often receive calls from those looking for local community services, having to re-direct them.
The Indigenous Student Centre, under the portfolio of Western Student Experience, acts as the central hub for students, staff, faculty and communities to gather and find a sense of belonging at Western. Self-identifying Indigenous students at Western and its affiliated colleges can access academic, cultural and personal support services, along with contact to visiting elders and even an Indigenous food and medicine garden.
Prior to graduating from Western, BA’11, BEd’13, Myers completed the Jewellery Arts program at George Brown College and operated a business as a full-time goldsmith. She said her experiences as an Indigenous woman (Anishinaabe/Bodewadomi/Métis from Blenheim) have educated her understanding of identity and taught her the complexities that Indigenous Peoples navigate when considering postsecondary education.
That doesn’t mean the inevitable questions of ‘identity’ can be raised.
“Any time you put yourself in the forefront, your identity is going to be questioned by Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. Who are you? How Indigenous are you? Do you have the right to be the voice of Indigenous People,” Myers said. “If you don’t have status, if you don’t belong to a community, if you’re still learning about your ancestry, it’s often a question.
“That is a product of colonialism and assimilation our people have faced. I understand where that comes from, but it can still be hurtful. You’re really putting yourself in a vulnerable position.”
Myers has assumed some of the work of director over the last couple of years, so she knew it was a big, far-reaching role reaching across campus and deep into the surrounding communities. But with the development of a Special Advisor to the Provost (Indigenous Initiatives) position, and the introduction of the university’s Indigenous Strategic Plan, she saw the timing was right.
Along with her work as director, Myers is also pursing her Professional Master of Education with a focus on Indigenous Leadership in Education.
“I saw it as an opportunity to meet new people outside my role on campus,” she said. “It’s the thing I always try to tell our students. If I approach my education as if I’m excited about it, and I feel passionate about it, I’m going to get a good grade.
“A lot of people in my cohort said they initially were doing this to get that next promotion. They have now seen there is more than they thought, which speaks to the program. The relationships have been the most valuable component.”
Across campus, Myers is encouraged with the progress in addressing Indigenous issues. But, she stresses, there is still work to be done.
“It’s a very large university and easy to get impatient with how things develop. You don’t want to do rush things because then they’re not done well,” she added. “My hope is when Indigenous people walk around campus there are more visible reflections. That’s a hard thing, a tricky thing to do. But it will be a next step for Western.
“If they see something like a medicine wheel, a mural or eagle feather, that’s an open door of safety. It is really exciting. I know how that makes people feel when they go on to a campus – it’s like a beacon.”