Laura Brandon

What education have you taken?

I earned my Mature High School Diploma through Assiniboine Community College in 2000. Through ACC, I went on to graduate with the Community Social Development Certificate in 2001 and the Aboriginal Community Development Diploma in 2002. I will graduate with a four-year Bachelor of Arts, with a double major in Anthropology/Archaeology and Native Studies this spring, June 2012.

What accomplishments are you proud of?

Since being a student at BU, I have always been involved in student run events at the Indigenous Peoples’ Centre.  I have volunteered for fundraisers, powwows, and the Aboriginal Student Council throughout my four years attending this institution.

I have been selected for a number of awards and scholarships as well, for which I am very grateful, including the Aboriginal Business Council and the Manitoba Hydro Bursary.

The Society of American Archaeology Native American Undergraduate Scholarship is one award that I recently received. As far as I know, there is only one award available to Native American Archaeology students per year, across North America. They have asked me to attend their Annual Meeting in Memphis this year, to be recognized for this accomplishment.

I am proud that I was able to get through these four years of university while caring for my family at home.  I am a married mother of three children, with very little extended family supports available to me in Brandon. I have also been able to work part-time throughout my time here. Last year I worked for Student Services as a Student Assistant in the Indigenous Peoples’ Centre. I’ve also been able to volunteer for various events.

Tell me about yourself/ your background/ your history.

I was born in Brandon but was raised mainly on Waywayseecappo First Nation, which is an Anishinabe community northwest of Brandon. My background is Anishinabe and Métis. One of my grandfathers was a fluent Michif and French speaker, and two of my other grandparents were/are fluent in Anishinabe. Three out of four of my grandparents and my mother attended Residential School, and this legacy lives on in me and my children today. Attending university has been an ongoing struggle for me because of this. I am the first person in my mother’s immediate family to attend and graduate from college or university. Throughout my life, I’ve had many social issues stacked against me, but I continued to try, time and time again. I’ve experienced abuse, poverty, racism, addiction, dropping out of high school, becoming a teenage mother, and a single-mother, but I didn’t let any of those things stop me from striving for a better life for me and my children.

People who live in my home community of Waywayseecappo have always been supportive in any way they could, especially my mother, grandmother, and brother. I am proud to say that I am a member of that community.  The Aboriginal student community that congregate around the Indigenous Peoples’ Centre have also been a big help. The faculty members of the Anthropology and Native Studies departments have also been there for me in good times and not so good, specifically the following: Suyoko Tsukamoto, Joe Sawchuk, Bev & Sylvia Nicholson, Laurelyn Whitt, Lorraine Mayer, Darrell Racine, Colleen Cutschall, and Alanaise Goodwill. Sandy McMaster from Student Services has also been a great support for me. I would also like to mention that a BU alumni and cousin of mine, Carla Gambler was an immense help when I started here four years ago. There were no supports in place specific to Aboriginal students on campus for me to go to, and it was her help and the gathering of other Aboriginal students to help each other that gave me confidence that I needed as university student.

I am very proud to say that my husband and three children have all stuck together to help each other out when needed. I try to make it a point to be involved in community activities in Brandon and at home in Waywayseecappo. We attend cultural events that are put on by the Brandon Friendship Centre and Brandon School Division in Brandon.

How did you become interested in your field of study?

I became interested in Native Studies through a desire to learn about who I am as an Indigenous person of Turtle Island. As I mentioned earlier, I have been affected by the Residential School system by not having opportunities to learn my language and culture. I found that by studying Native Studies, this would help me understand who I am and where I belong. Native Studies also have given me the opportunity to learn about many issues our people face today, and has given me insight on ways that I can offer my help. One way that I see myself helping is through learning the history of our people from our perspective and passing that knowledge on to anyone willing to learn.

Archaeology for me has been another avenue for me to learn about the history of Indigenous people across the Americas. I find our history and cultures so fascinating. The studying of Anthropology/Archaeology has given me opportunities to learn about my people in a different way. I have always been interested in the lifestyles and histories of different cultural groups around the world, and this was a way for me to pursue those interests. When I began university, I didn’t even know there was such a thing as Anthropology or Archaeology.  It was my registration in introductory courses like Intro to Socio-Cultural Anthropology and Human Origins that got me hooked.

What is your philosophy in life?

I believe that it’s important to have faith in something greater than you, and that it’s OK to ask for help because we weren’t meant to live life on our own. Also, I’ve always believed in helping others. If I see anyone needing help and I am able to help, I offer, and if I can’t then I try to find someone else that can. The Seven Teachings of the Anishinabe are also very special to me:

  1. To cherish knowledge is to know WISDOM
  2. To know LOVE is to know peace
  3. To honour all of the Creation is to have RESPECT
  4. BRAVERY is to face the foe with integrity
  5. HONESTY in facing a situation is to be brave
  6. HUMILITY is to know yourself as a sacred part of creation
  7. TRUTH is to know all these things

Where do you see yourself in the future?

I see myself continuing to be involved in areas that promote learning, especially the history and culture of Indigenous groups. I am considering obtaining a Master degree in Native Studies and pursuing a career in the museum field. However I do not like to limit myself, so I’ll just say I am open to wherever life takes me!

Nominator’s Comments

Laura Brandon is in the final year of her 4-year degree program, double majoring in Anthropology and Native Studies. Like many of our BU students, Laura is extremely bright, capable, and hardworking. Her commitment and dedication to her cultural heritage and family, however, is evident through her studies. Laura has demonstrated a unique ability to include her family as active participants throughout her scholastic journey, whether it’s studying her family’s history, inviting her family to participate on an archaeological dig or attending her class presentations, and teaching/learning an aboriginal art form (with both her mother and daughter). In addition to being a strong student, Laura has spent many hours working and volunteering in BU’s Indigenous Peoples’ Centre, where she has helped fundraise for activities, tutor students, and organize potlucks and the Graduation Powwow.  She has also worked as an archaeology and native studies instructor for the Mini University and Career Trek Programs that serve to engage students in the practical aspects of archaeology.

For her thesis in Native Studies, Laura is investigating the story behind a ceremonial pipe and how it came to be housed at the Glenbow Museum (Calgary, AB); this is sacred artefact once belonging to her family who are a part of the Waywayseecappo First Nation. For her Experiments in Indigenous Art Techniques course in the Department of Visual and Aboriginal Arts, Laura worked on mastering her beadwork skills. According to the calendar, the course is structured to allow students to focus on one particular art form and produce aboriginal-inspired art works. In Laura’s case, she beaded a beautiful bandolier bag for her grandmother and moccasins and leggings for her daughter to be worn at powwows. While working on these projects, which can now be considered family heirlooms, Laura consulted her mother who initially taught her beading when she was a young girl, and in turn, Laura taught her daughter how to bead.