Staff Stories: Meet Naomi Narcisse

What Nation are you from?

I am from St’át’imc Nation

I am a Xaxli’p Registered Member

I was Raised on Ts’kw’aylaxw First Nation & Adams Lake Band


We are so excited to have you at NITEP, what excites you about being here? What do you like best about NITEP?

[NITEP] is very student-centred, where I can work with Indigenous learners, instructors, and staff, so I’m really excited to be a part of NITEP.


What is your favourite place on campus?

Goodness! I did take my master’s degree with UBC and Nicola Valley Institute of Technology. This allowed me to take my course work at the NVIT campus, so I never really got to spend a whole lot of time on the UBC campus. Yesterday, Alexis brought me for a walk, and I got to experience what it really looks like here. So, I do not really have a favourite place yet. I thought the water space was really cool. There is a totem pole at the end of the street, which I thought was pretty neat. As we walked along this dragonfly came up to us to say hello. [It] reaffirm[ed] that I am in the right place, and I am meant to be here.


What was your first snack to get on campus?

My first snack on campus here was a yummy soy frappe from JJ Bean.


Can you tell us one thing you love to do when you’re off work?

Okay! I grew up in a small community- Ts’kw’aylaxw near Lillooet BC. Population, 20 homes. That’s my dad’s reserve. I am not a member there but that is where I grew up. It is a very small community where it took us an hour to get to each town, get to groceries, and get to school every day when I was little. I spent a lot of my childhood time running around in the mountains, playing in the mud, skating on little iced puddles, fishing and hunting with my parents and siblings, and eating berries and food from the land. I am still a mountain kid. I like to hang out in the mountains anytime I can, sit and play in the water. I really like paddleboarding. I used to rent them every summer when I moved to the city. This year, I saved up a little bit of money and I bought myself a nice paddle board. I will be out on the lakes when I can, when it is busy I’ll find a lovely, calm river where I can jump in and float down on my board. My favourite is to be out in the mountains and experience new things. I am not from Vancouver, so I like to find fun things to do and the little hidden gems locally.


What would you like NITEP student, and Master of Educational Student know about you?

I am a regular student, a learner, and a teacher. I acknowledge Indigenous people are not the same, but we have similar barriers in education. I also had struggles in my learning journey. I am here to support learners as best as I can and to ensure that they are successful in their areas of study. When I was going through my education, I felt almost ashamed of how long it took for me to finish my degree. But now, I feel like I did so as a way of learning and a way of growing. I can share all the information that I picked up along the way with other students, other leaders, teachers, and staff members. I like to keep an open-door policy and interact with everybody to ensure that we collaborate and check in with one another. I am always around to support in a good way.


Can you talk about your academic journey so far?

I did not start my academic journey until I was in the mid-20s. I dropped out of high school when I was pregnant with my first kid, so I did not finish high school. I thought, okay- I am going to grow up and be a mom. As my kids started growing and getting bigger, it is really expensive to be a single mother and I had to work two minimum wage jobs. Without a high school degree, like not even graduated [with] my grade 12 and any higher education credentials, I could not get a decent paying wage. [When] my kids [got] a little bit older, I put them in daycare. I went to visit an academic and financial planner at NVIT to see what I would need to do to get into school. I wanted to go into nursing, but I needed to finish an ACCUPLACER assessment to see where I was with my Math 11 and English 12. After that assessment, they conditionally admitted me into the program and then I had to do a TB skin test which is one of the pre-reqs. With the Skin test, they poked me, I saw a little bit of blood and I got really dizzy and queasy. I thought Okay, maybe I should not be a nurse if I cannot even handle my own blood!  (Laughs) I scrapped the prospect to be a nurse and I ended up going pursuing general arts.


I thought it is a good program that I can start off with, to figure out what I want to do. I felt a little frustrated at the beginning because I did not know what I wanted to do with my education, I just knew I needed to get a degree in order to get a decent career. Therefore, I went into General Art studies for my Bachelor’s degree. It was a 2-year program with Nicola Valley Institute of Technology. I started off [with] some Criminology classes, some Indigenous Studies classes, Psychology, Sociology and all those kind of classes in order to get a feel for what I wanted to get into. I really started leaning towards Criminology, so I did my Associate of Arts degree in Criminology, and I finished [in] about three years.


I finished my Associate of Arts degree in Merritt BC, and I thought Okay, where next? Thompson Rivers University is in Kamloops- which is an hour away from Merritt- and there are no courses that I want to take [there] and I did not want to move to Kamloops. There were a lot of fires happening at the time, so that skewed my decision a bit. Jenny Blankenship from SFU just happened to be visiting Merritt at NVIT and she gave me advice to apply to transfer my credits. She sat down with me on a computer and sent in my transcripts for me. I got admitted into the Bachelor’s degree program at SFU and then I packed up my kids and dog, we moved all the way to Vancouver. I transferred 60 of my credits from NVIT to SFU, so I jumped into my education there and I started off in Criminology. Criminology is huge at SFU, with ginormous classrooms and great teachers, and it was hard to get into some of the courses. I was going to change my direction from Criminology to a major in Indigenous Studies. This decision took me a little while because I thought I am an Indigenous person why should I take Indigenous studies courses? But when I started taking them, I realize that there is so much to learn because there are various types of Indigenous studies and instructors, so I ended up staying in that major (which was a very awesome experience) and then I finished my degree at SFU. There is a lot of core courses that I had to take, such as statistics. I was so bad with statistics, but in order to finish my Bachelor’s degree, I had to finish it as it was one of the requirements to graduate. I had to take statistics a few times and that hurt my GPA. There are some of the other courses that I had to take, and I had a really tough time, such as Psychology. I know some people find psychology really interesting but [it was] really tough for me for some reason. I was on academic probation a couple times, and there was one point where I [was required] to withdraw. With the support of my academic advisors and all the student supports, I was able to get back on my feet as many times as I did and to finish my bachelor’s degree. I was ready to celebrate, but here comes Covid, so we did not get an in person grad, and we had to do it on YouTube. That was kind of crappy.


I immediately jumped into a Masters in Educational Administration and Leadership was in partnership with NVIT and UBC. It was a collaboration with Dr. Jan Hare and Dr. Verna Billy-Minnabarriet, and they came together with two schools to develop this MEd. Thank goodness Melanie Mark (the first elected Indigenous MLA) was in Advanced Education at the time as she had just made the announcement that $1.4M in funding would go to Indigenous training. Some of that funding was shared to this cohort to supplement some of our student fees. There were about 40 Indigenous Masters’ students 20 in Merritt 20 in Vancouver. We had great instructors, such as Brad Baker, Lynn Tomlinson, and Margaret Kovach- all of them are great instructors. This program was originally supposed to be in person but due to Covid we had to do it all online. I’m not very technology savvy, but Covid really forced me to learn how to find student supports, how to communicate with various people via zoom, it was really quiet a learning curve. I finished my Masters while Covid was slowly starting to settle down. We got to celebrate with an in-person graduation, and we had our Indigenous graduation and I finally got to walk through that sacred door at the FNHL Longhouse. Now, my next step is looking towards doing my PhD in Education, and growing in my new role here at NITEP and OIE.


What strategies did you use to be successful in university?

Communication, networking, getting to know everybody, taking the time to sit with people to have a coffee/tea, going for walks, sharing jokes, sharing stories, and checking in with one another. There is a lot of work being done on our computers and online. We always have to be mindful [to] make sure that we are getting up and taking those breaks away from this kind of online format. We need to ensure that we are checking in with one another and that we are all okay because we are a community. I believe that – our Indigenous teachers, leaders, students, and staff – we are working towards a similar goal, we are doing this not only for ourselves, but we are doing it for our communities, for our families, for our ancestors and those to come. Therefore, we have to be mindful of why we are here, have check ins and ensure our family is fine, and act as a community. It is hard to connect with one another when your face is on a screen, so it’s essential to pay attention to scan the room as your enter and to ensure that everybody is okay (Tsimshian Nisga’a friend reminded me of this practice). People are good at masking their feelings, so sometimes, all it takes is to ask “How you are doing? How did you sleep? Are you hungry/are you thirsty,” etc. I never expect a polite answer. I genuinely want to know how you are doing. I appreciate the team that I get to work with now even though I am a newcomer. NITEP-OIE, everybody is so friendly and great. FNHL even comes over just to say hello and we are all connected. I am so excited to meet students and be a part of a big community of learners and everybody working towards a common goal for our ancestors, those to come, and for our communities.


Can you tell us one moment you feel inspired by a student?

Oh goodness. Not only in the good times but also in the hard times, when students are struggling, I tell them how proud I am of them for reaching out for help. Sometimes the hardest thing you can do is asking for help. I think the hardest part in my educational journey was going to see the academic advisor. I swear to this day- the hardest part of my academic journey [was] to go to that door, pull on that door, and open it, because I thought I am not smart enough, I am not good enough, I am not meant to be an educator, I am not meant to be here, what if they tell me I am not supposed to be here? I tell students my story about how I doubted myself and how I almost prevented myself from pursuing an education. So, when a student asks for help, I think you are really amazing. Thank you for asking questions, thank you for saying it out loud so that maybe their peers, or somebody else can overhear them, which can make them think it is okay to reach out and it is okay to look for support. It is just like opening a whole floodgate and giving students confidence to ask for help.


I am definitely inspired by students when they buckle down and they get to work. But I think it is important for students to know when to take break and to take care of themselves, so I am really proud of students when they realize they need the time to themselves. Furthermore, I feel inspired and proud of students when they do not treat their education as a race. Just like I mentioned before, I took a long time to finish my Bachelor’s degree therefore I can wholeheartedly understand it is one of the hardest parts of your educational path. I really feel proud and happy of students when they take their time and get to enjoy and absorb their education, and they can add to their educational basket and carry it with them forward into their career and into their life.


Are there any resources at NITEP that you would recommend that could help the Indigenous student be successful?

Asking for help is a good way to communicate with everybody here. NITEP/OIE  is a close-knit team with a lot of support and people who treat everybody like family. When you run into a bump in the road, you can come to NITEP/OIE, and there are always ways to find that support.


What is the tip to give Master of Educational student to success?

I did my Masters in a Cohort Way. The Cohort Way of Learning is my favorite way of pursuing an education, and that is what I really enjoy about NITEP, you study as a family, and working as a team. If you are feeling like you are not doing an assignment properly or struggling, it’s always important to ask questions, check in with your peers, and communicate with your instructors. I believe that no question is a stupid question because it will only benefit you. When a question comes to mind, please write it down and make a list of questions that you want to bring forward to your teachers, or your classmates, and communicate. I think study groups are extremely important. As I shared with you earlier, just like how I really struggle with statistics, I tried to do it without a tutor or study group, so that was probably why I failed in the first place. You need to find strength within your groups. In our Indigenous communities, everybody has their role- some people are good hunters, some are good storytellers, and some are good at telling jokes, some are good artists. We do not discriminate against anybody because everybody has different roles and brings [different things] to their community. When you walk into a classroom, everybody has their strengths and everybody has their weaknesses, it is essential to ensure that you are utilizing everybody for the great skills that they bring to the circle.