2022/23 Shining Student | It'samahka (Driving Along the Beach), Blair Many Fingers

It'samahka, Blair Many Fingers has always been drawn to the Iniskim (ULethbridge) campus. While It'samahka, Blair is from the Kainai/Blood reserve, he grew up right here in Sikohkotoki (west Lethbridge). His earliest memories of campus include being escorted off campus by security for rollerblading in areas he wasn't meant to explore.

I guess this special concrete place of knowledge has always been calling my name. I answered the call, and now I'm "surfing the flux" of knowledge — going with the ebb and flow of post-secondary life.

Meet It'samahka, Blair | Niitsitapiiysinni (To be Blackfoot). Aatsimoyikaan (Spirituality). Kakoysin (Be aware of your environment, be observant, research).
Program: Bachelor of Arts | Major: Indigenous Studies

Why did you choose ULethbridge?

After spending some time in trades as a plumber (I helped install water lines in the Science Commons building), I decided to follow my ambitions by continuing my lifelong learning journey at Mi'kai'sto Red Crow Community College in Stand Off, AB, on the Blood reserve. I graduated from upgrading as the valedictorian, then went into the 2+2 Niitsitapi Arts and Science Diploma Transfer Program. Once again, I graduated as the valedictorian of my cohort (shout out to all my peers from Mi'kai'sto). I guess this special concrete place of knowledge has always been calling me. I answered the call, and now I'm "surfing the flux" of knowledge — going with the ebb and flow of post-secondary life.

Did you know what you wanted to study before you came to ULethbridge? Has your academic plan changed since you began your studies?

I first planned on going into the education program. However, after considering my career goal of instructing at the post-secondary level, I streamlined myself to grad school by switching to an Indigenous studies major.

What are your thoughts on the importance of learning?

In Blackfoot pedagogy, learning is relational. As Indigenous learners, we continuously build and renew relationships with elders, knowledge-keepers, and professors. As students, stories are transferred to us in different disciplines of knowledge, such as education, business, science, fine arts and Indigenous studies. All these stories, including Indigenous literature, hold the power of transformation.

What is your most memorable ULethbridge experience?

Walking into my first class at ULethbridge was a humbling experience where I experienced some slight culture shock. It was a big step up from Zoom classes at Red Crow Community College to in-person classes, but I powered through and made the Faculty of Arts & Science Dean's list in my first semester at the University of Lethbridge.

How have your professors impacted your education?

Dr. Christopher Grignard, my mentor and good friend, introduced me to the world of Indigenous literature I never knew existed until I took the English class The World of Words. According to Daniel Heath Justice, Indigenous literatures matter because they teach us how to be Niitsitapiiks (the real people), how to behave as good Nikokowaiksi (relatives), how to become good Akaitapiiks (ancestors), and how to live together — Aahkowaitapiiyssini (the collective/tribe).

Chris taught me that Indigenous literatures have the power of transformation, the power to ignite a paradigm shift. Dr. Grignard's Advanced Indigenous Literature course reinforced the idea to approach education, the new Iinii (buffalo), with the same respect, reverence, and sincerity as one would approach ceremony. His friendship and mentorship provided balance in my educational journey —Aoahkannaistokawa (everything comes in pairs balance/harmony).

Dr. Conor Snoek has reminded me to approach learning through an analytical lens, and that studying Indigenous languages and linguistics provides a window to the distant past — time immemorial.

Still waters run deep. – Dr. Conor Snoek, Department of Indigenous Studies, nominated Blair as a Shining Student.

Dr. David Hobbs has taught me that studying literature from marginalized groups reveals that we may be from different cultures, but we share some cool similarities, more than one might expect.

Is there someone else who had an important influence on your ULethbridge experience?

Iniskim (UlLethbridge) elder, Ninnaisipistoo (Owl Chief), Francis First Charger and Indigenous Counsellor Wilma Spearchief have shared valuable knowledge, advice, and stories which all have empowered me in my educational and life journeys.

Have you received any scholarships and awards? If so, please tell us a bit about how they helped you throughout your studies.

I received the Dr. Helen Manyfingers Alumni Association Education Award. I want to thank the Alumni Association for selecting me for this award. I had a nice turkey dinner with my family. Thanks for the gas and grocery money. Feeling recharged from a good weekend with my family, I could focus on my studies.

I am a second-generation ULethbridge student. My father received a Bachelor of Management from the University of Lethbridge in 2004. Indigenous graduates like Dr. Helen Manyfingers have trailblazed a path for current Indigenous students at the university. The Iikaisskini centre is a product of all the hard work that Indigenous ULethbridge alums, faculty, and staff have set forth for current students to enjoy. Thank you, Aaai (hand to heart).

What are your hopes/plans for the future?

I plan on applying for grad school, where I will study the power of transformation in Indigenous storytelling/literature in a contemporary setting. I love learning. Universities play a significant role in the path to decolonization and the path to reconciliation. I want to be a part of that collective journey.

What advice would you like to give those who are about to begin their journey at ULethbridge?

My advice for students eager to begin or continue their post-secondary journey at ULethbridge is to follow and trust your instincts. You have made it far enough to be standing in the footsteps of a great institution. You're capable and intelligent enough to make sound decisions, so trust yourself and act upon it. Follow your passion for education but be prepared to sacrifice to achieve great things.

For Indigenous students looking towards the University of Lethbridge, we all bring our unique life experiences, but we also bring with us the resiliency that our ancestors instilled in us. As Indigenous students, we are continuing the battle that great Indigenous leaders, activists, authors, scholars, and warriors have been fighting since the onset of colonization in the 1400s. As Indigenous scholars, we are fighting 100s of years of cultural genocide, assimilation, racism, and intergenerational trauma. Own these institutional colonial spaces by bringing your Indigenous culture, stories, songs, ceremonies, and connection to the land with you. Indigenous people have some elite knowledge to add to academia's web of knowledge. Be proud of who you are and where you come from. Niitsitapi students are real people — real-spirited people who will make mistakes. However, it is vital to take the lessons learned from our missteps by moving forward in a good way. Indigenous poet Gregory Scofield says that as Indigenous people, we all hold the same story and "we are all writing our way out of trauma; we are all writing our way out of colonization; we are all writing ourselves back into our history, back into our languages, back into the sense of who we are."

Quick Answers

Top things to do in or around Lethbridge:

  1. Walks beside the Old Man River in parks like Indian Battle Park and Pavan Park.
  2. Golfing at one of the many beautiful golf courses in and around Lethbridge.
  3. Checking out a live show at The Owl Acoustic Lounge.

Favourite class: Advanced Indigenous Literature

Favourite social activity at ULethbridge: Events at the Iikaisskini centre

Favourite place to study: The contemplation corner on the lower level of the library.

Photo submitted by It'samahka, Blair.

About Shining Students

Shining Students engage inside and outside of the classroom. What makes a student shine may differ from person to person, but they all share a passion for learning. They may be top students, involved in an innovative project, participating in ground-breaking research, playing Pronghorn athletics, fighting for social issues or all of the above! When students find something they enjoy and combine it with what they are good at, they shine.

Each year, the Faculty of Arts & Science's faculty and staff nominate students who exemplify the ULethbridge student spirit. Congratulations It'samahka, Blair!