by Petra Cegielny
On May 31, 2009, the Augustana Campus of the University of Alberta held its second Eagle Feather Ceremony during Spring Convocation. Performed by Elder Elaine Brass of Edmonton, the Ceremony recognized the academic achievements of Kyla Conway, Bridget Fanta and Trina Goodin; three hard working and dedicated Aboriginal students.
A member of the Bigstone Cree Nation, Bridget Fanta grew up the youngest in a family of eight in Fort Vermillion, Alberta. Bridget first remembers seeing the University of Alberta in the early 70’s, on a trip to Edmonton to visit her father at the university hospital. Bridget says, “After seeing the U of A sign, I thought to myself – one of these days I’m going to go there.” In the years that followed, Bridget kept this dream in the back of her mind. “I knew that I wanted to attend the U of A but, I didn’t know when or how. My oldest sister Emma was instrumental in pushing me to take the high school matriculation courses required for admission.” Upon graduating from high school, Bridget moved to Edmonton to attend the U of A and began her post-secondary studies.
In the years that followed, Bridget’s journey took many turns including time spent studying, married, working, travelling and raising two children who are described by Bridget as her, “first and foremost love, passion, and challenge!” After the passing of her husband in 2006, Bridget emailed Dean Epp expressing her interested in attending Augustana to complete her degree. “He encouraged me to apply and I got in! Since that time I worked very hard and found my experience at Augustana to be very rewarding. My degree did not come on a silver platter. It required many days of hard work. Nothing comes easy and I believe perseverance is an important aspect of my success,” says Bridget.
A volunteer with the Aboriginal Students Office, Bridget has been an asset to the Augustana community by raising awareness of Aboriginal issues in classrooms and sharing her knowledge and experience of Cree culture at campus events. From speaking on the history and consequences of residential schools at the 2009 Spring Student Conference, to teaching a Cree song during International Week, Bridget’s enthusiasm to teach and share her culture with others has helped Augustana recognize and celebrate its diverse student population.
Graduating this spring with a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Political Studies, Bridget’s future goal is to work in government for the betterment of Aboriginal peoples. She encourages incoming students to, “Stay focused, work hard and utilize the supports available at Augustana. Don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for help.” When asked what receiving an Eagle Feather means to her, she responded, “It will be a very high honour. The Eagle Feather is a sign of respect in our culture. This will be the first Feather that I’ve earned. I feel honoured to be bestowed an Eagle Feather. To me, it is a sign of success.“
Trina Goodin also began her educational journey at the U of A, Edmonton Campus. After studying for one year, balancing classes, work, and a new baby, Trina moved to Hobbema to live with her grandfather. It was while studying at Maskwachees Cultural College that Trina first heard of Augustana and, in 1995 after the passing for her grandfather, Trina moved to Camrose with her son to attend Augustana. “Before my grandfather passed he told me that he wanted me to continue my education,” says Trina. “My first year at Augustana was difficult – I was fearful, in a new town, alone and still grieving for my grandfather. With the cost of rent and day care, I barely survived. This is also when I learnt to be a night owl,” laughs Trina. “With a young son at home, I had to wait until he was in bed to get homework done.”
Professors fondly remember a few occasions when Trina was unable to find a sitter and requested permission to bring her son to class. Trina says, “I think this was an excellent opportunity for him. It taught him how to behave in class. He would phone his Grandma and say, ‘Guess what Grandma – I went to University today!’” Trina’s favourite memory of Augustana is a biology lab in which she dissected a dogfish shark. “My son sat next to me, watching me dissect the shark, while surrounded by other students in white lab coats. I was my son’s hero that day! He got to see a real shark and I had cut it up! He was just amazed at what I was doing.”
Trina’s journey took an unexpected turn in the winter of 2000 when she and her son were nearly killed when hit by a drunk driver on the way home to Camrose. Although she tried to complete her degree after the accident, balancing studies, motherhood and many hours of physical therapy proved to be difficult. Trina took a break from studies and began to work for the Samson Cree Nation’s Youth and Sport Development Program. In 2009 her board allowed her to return to Augustana to complete her degree.
“Crossing the stage will be emotional for me,” says Trina. “It’s not as much about the degree as it is about the journey I have taken from the start of my studies to today – that journey has taught me some of life’s most valuable lessons. I truly appreciate the opportunities Augustana has given me – the education and experiences and the relationships I’ve built. Professors, librarians, Monica in the cafeteria have become friends. I created close bonds and to me these bonds are as meaningful as anything you learn in the classroom.”
Graduating this spring with a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Physical Education, Trina has many plans for the future of the Samson Cree Nation’s Youth and Sport Development Program. She hopes to encourage the young athletes in her community to further their education, strive for athletic scholarships, and have the confidence to move on with their sporting endeavors. “We have many youths with natural athletic abilities who do not pursue their dreams due to a fear of leaving the reserve,” says Trina. “They may not see their potential, but I do.”
Augustana’s Aboriginal Students Office would like to congratulate Kyla, Bridget and Trina on their graduation and wish them continued success on their path of life-long learning.