Student Success

Building rapport key to success of the Raising Spirit project

Taylor Little Mustache couldn’t have asked for a better summer job. As a research assistant with Raising Spirit: The Opokaa’sin Digital Storytelling Project, Little Mustache says she felt honoured to work on a project where she learned so much.

“I feel humbled by being a part of this creation,” she says about the project that features photos of Blackfoot family life and audio recordings where Blackfoot Elders and children come together for the telling of traditional cultural stories.

Raising Spirit is a collaborative project of the Opokaa’sin Early Intervention Society and the University of Lethbridge’s Institute for Child and Youth Studies (I-CYS). The purpose is to help ensure Blackfoot history, language and values endure and shape future generations, as well as build research capacity and understanding of intergenerational knowledge transmission that was interrupted by residential schooling. Once completed, the goal is to produce a digital library that will be a community resource.

Little Mustache, who’s entering her third year of studies at the U of L, is working on a combined education, Native American Studies and history degree. She also has a love of athletics, especially basketball. She has coached for the Alberta Summer Games and the Junior Pronghorns teams. She became part of the Raising Spirit project after taking a history of childhood course and an independent study with Dr. Kristine Alexander, the director of I-CYS.

Her fields of study and experience working with youth and community organizations have served her well in her work with the Raising Spirit project. She’s been busy building rapport with the Opokaa’sin Early Intervention Society and the Piikani and Kainai First Nations. Little Mustache has worked with children aged four to seven and youth up to 18 years of age. She has presented on the project at conferences, met with Elders, collected and organized data, and transcribed interviews. In addition, Taylor has supervised the growing research skills of two high school summer students, Hudson Eagle Bear and Tesla Heavy Runner.

Little Mustache says she found the field work component of her job especially engaging. She attended a Blackfoot immersion camp, slept in a teepee for the first time and furthered her knowledge of cultural traditions.

“I’ve learned so much from the elders I got to meet over the summer. They hold so much knowledge,” she says. “I’m well connected to my culture but this field work made the connection even stronger.”

At first, she wondered how she could contribute to the research team — Tanya Pace-Crosschild (BSc ’98), executive director of Opokaa’sin, and the Opokaa’sin staff, U of L professors Jan Newberry and Kristine Alexander and Erin Spring, a post-doctoral fellow and Amy Mack (MA ’16). Michelle Hogue and Francis First Charger serve as advisors on the project.

“When I first met them I felt a little under-qualified because I was just an undergraduate. However, they made me feel comfortable and I want to acknowledge their mentorship,” says Little Mustache. “This project really opened doors for me.”

One of those doors is a co-operative placement with Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada this fall. She’ll be working as a junior program analyst in the education branch.

“I’ll be conducting policy research and analyzing indigenous education issues,” she says. “I’m super excited and the position is a good fit for my research skills.”