Family Pride

Spring came late in southern Alberta this year.  It’s a bitterly cold morning in March, but the sun is shining brightly through the windows of Markin Hall at the University of Lethbridge. The warmth in the room is palpable. It’s a spiritual sort of warmth – the kind you feel when you’re around good people who radiate a glow from deep within their soul. If the sun weren’t shining, you’d almost bet the three women could light up the room themselves.

Maria Livingston, Margaret Lamouche and Sandra Lamouche.

Margaret Lamouche (BA '02, BEd '05) and her daughters, Sandra Lamouche (BA '07) and Maria Livingston, comprise two generations of U of L students and alumni. It’s easy to see the admiration between them and their pride in where they come from is clear. Each woman is an accomplished scholar, is respected in visual and performing arts, and all three will tell you that getting in touch with their heritage has been key to their happiness and success.

The road here hasn’t been easy though. Margaret was just 12 years old when her own mother was struck down and killed by a drunk driver in the small northern community of Wabasca, Alta. Four years later, she dropped out of school and left home in search of a job and a new life, away from the poverty she’d been contending with. Eventually she married, settled in Slave Lake, and became a dedicated stay-at-home mother of eight children.

Reading the newspaper one day, Margaret came across something that would change the trajectory of her life forever, and the lives of her children and countless other children, too. She read a feature that listed the names of local high school students who would graduate that spring. What she saw in the article, or more accurately, what she didn’t see, put a trickle of a thought in Margaret’s mind that would precipitate a river of change for her whole family.

“There were only a couple of native children’s names on the list, which made me very sad,” recalls Margaret. “I wanted my children to get a good education, so I helped them with their homework, read to them and got involved at their schools. It occurred to me that day that a lot of other First Nations children needed help, and I started thinking that maybe I should become a teacher.”

Margaret waited until her youngest child started school and then went back to school herself, completing her diploma through an upgrading program and then applying to the U of L.

Sandra and Maria remember their mother’s transformation as both surprising and inspirational. “I had always seen her as ‘mom’ and then suddenly she was studying, taking exams and working on assignments,” says Maria, reflecting on Margaret’s transition from mother to full-time student. “It was strange, but she was determined and focused, which made a big impression.”

Margaret’s application to the U of L was accepted in 1999. She graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Native American studies in 2002 and went on to complete a Bachelor of Education in 2005. Sandra vividly remembers the first time her mother brought her to campus.

“That was a real eye-opener,” Sandra recalls. “She brought me to an indigenous dance performance, and to see native people on campus was amazing. Mom would often give me her textbooks to read or bring me along to native art exhibits. It made me realize that I could get an education in my own culture, and that was very exciting.”

With her mother’s encouragement, Sandra began studying at the  U of L in 2002. She is now in the finishing stages of a master’s degree through Trent University, is the mother of two young children and works as a youth mentor in Fort Macleod. Sandra also recently became a director with the University of Lethbridge Alumni Association’s First Nations, Métis and Inuit Alumni Chapter; is one of the only First Nations members on the International Dance Council (UNESCO); is a member of the United Nations of Dance; and has performed internationally as a hoop and contemporary dancer.

Artwork by Maria Livingston

“I followed my passion and interest, and through that I’ve built a career that is fulfilling and gives back to my community,” says Sandra. “I’ve created success on my terms.”

Her younger sister Maria’s path to the U of L took a bit more time. Shy and self-reflective, Maria wasn’t sure a university education was possible for her. It took four years for Margaret and Sandra to convince her to apply, but since she began her studies, Maria has gone through with flying colours.

Like her mother and sister before her, Maria will graduate from the NAS program. She is a member of the Native American Students’ Association, is involved with a working group under the Aboriginal Education Committee, as well as the on-campus FNMI mentorship program and has completed three applied studies and has been on the Dean’s Honour List four semesters. Maria says that her experience at the U of L has allowed her to connect with herself and her culture in a profound way.

“The past few years have been a path toward my true identity,” says Maria. “I’ve discovered where I fit in and what I’m supposed to do. I have a young son, so I work hard for him. I want to show him that it’s possible to make a living doing things you love to do.”

Beyond academics, all three women celebrate their culture artistically as well. Sandra and Maria have achieved national acclaim with their hoop dancing.Margaret focuses her talent on beading, poetry and meditation. Maria also paints and practises native fish-scale art.

“It’s about connecting to our people and finding positive ways to represent First Nations culture,” says Maria of her family’s artistic endeavours. “There are a lot of negative stereotypes and prejudices around native heritage. Finding ways to help break down those barriers and show the beauty of our culture is something all of us feel compelled to do.”

Margaret’s initial goal of becoming a teacher has been achieved – she’s been teaching Cree at Ben Calf Robe School in Edmonton since 2012, and has the same hopes for her students that she has for her own children.

“I want them to have balance in their lives, and I want them to help their people. We have a proud heritage, and anything is possible for us when we connect to the source of it,” says Margaret, who will return to the U of L campus this summer to begin the Master of Education program.  “I want to do more. Life is about learning lessons, and finding and following the path that is meant for you. Without the Creator and my spiritual guides, I would not have the ability to complete the journey that I am on.”

This story appears in the Spring 2014 edition of SAM magazine. For a look at the full issue in a flipbook format, follow this link.