By Siobhan Cole
Education has always been a cornerstone in Dr. Cora Voyageur’s life. From writing to teaching, Voyageur strives to improve the world around her. With 50 academic papers, 30 research reports, and 6 books under her belt, the prolific author keeps busy. Starting originally in the eighties as a life skills coach, she was called to teaching early on. Today, she is a full professor in the University of Calgary’s Sociology Department. Her work encompasses areas of sociology, research, women’s studies, community development, leadership, and more.
Her true passion, however, is her ceaseless contributions to her community. As a proud Dene woman (from the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation at Fort Chipewyan), she advocates that education is a powerful means of change.
“The thing is,” explains Voyageur, “is that there is a lot of misinformation out there about the indigenous community. A lot of what’s written isn’t flattering. This doesn’t tell an accurate story because there is a difference between opinion and fact. Discrimination is part of the school system, not part of change.”
She cites many cases where indigenous youth are streamlined by a school system into vocational studies versus a mainstream career – the nurse’s aide, rather than the nurse; for example.
However, Voyageur notes that this discrimination isn’t just in the school system – the practice is widespread, even at an academic level. “We’d review these research papers for grants and the same, old inaccurate and pathology-based research was being quoted.” She continues that the Indigenous community has contributed vastly to Canadian society – everywhere from culture to politics. “Judging a community by its weakest and most vulnerable members is very unfair.”
There is a bright side - there were 200 First Nations students in university in 1960. Today, there are approximately 28,000 in any given year. Additionally, while at one time there was a clustering of graduates in education and social work, there is now more diversity, with a rise in the number of Indigenous students other areas such as graduate school, law, medicine, and dentistry.
Voyageur herself says that she personally has seen a difference. “I’m living a life I didn’t know existed as a child. I didn’t know anyone who went to university. As a smart, poor Indian girl, I was not give the type of academic preparation in the K-12 school system that was needed to attend university..”
On the lasting impact of her work, she says that she just hopes that people understand the richness and resilience of indigenous people and the many contributions we make to the economy and social fabric of this country.