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New director encourages Indigenous perspective

Bringing together the western style of learning with the Indigenous ways of knowing and being has become vitally important at all levels of the education system. It ensures Indigenous students have a voice and allows all students to broaden their perspectives on how to learn.

As the new Director of Indigenous Education for Northern Lights College (NLC), Michael Calvert looks forward to making those connections and forming partnerships within NLC and the communities.

“For me, doing this work of decolonization is incredibly important and for me it has to be authentic,” he said. “When I was looking through what NLC was doing, I really felt there was an opportunity to make significant change to the colonial education system.”

A member of the Mid-Island Metis Nation, Michael comes to NLC from Vancouver Island University (VIU) where he worked in both faculty and administration roles; he started as an instructor teaching publishing, English with an Indigenous focus, and in the Aboriginal University Bridging program, before taking the role of chair for the latter. During this time, he also earned a Master in Publishing from Simon Fraser University.

Through his work as the chair of VIU’s Aboriginal University Bridging program, Michael has found that education is the best tool for people to decolonize their way of thinking, especially those in academia and higher levels of governance.

“I think that if we can teach enough people who have been working within the colonial system their entire lives, if we can teach them more about the Indigenous ways of knowing and being and the approaches that are needed from an Indigenous perspective, I think that people in academia will then be able to better understand the direction we’d like to go and why it’s so important to move in that direction.”

He wasn’t always in academia; born in Vancouver and raised in Abbotsford, Michael moved to the Island with his wife, Lori, to open their own automotive painting business, which they operated for 18 years. Towards the end of that run, he realized he should probably dial back the physical labour.

“The job that I had was pretty physical, it was in the trades, and my body was telling me I needed to look at other options,” he said. “It was a challenging step to start over again and come back to school.”

He applied to VIU, where he needed to upgrade his math and English, as so many students do. He had to work hard at the math portion, but he re-discovered his love of writing while upgrading his English.

“I just suddenly became very passionate about storytelling,” he said, which prompted him to switch from the Resource Management Officer Technology program into the Bachelor of Arts – Creative Writing and Journalism program. “I decided I was going to become a writer.”

And write he did. On top of having his stories published in various literary magazines, he’s currently working on a short story collection about Metis history. It follows one family line from the beginning to how they arrived at the current day and into the future.

That passion for storytelling is reflective of his passion for education and ensuring that Indigenous voices are well-represented, particularly for students.

“I’ve always been a student-centered faculty member, whether it’s in my teaching roles or my administrative roles, the heart of everything we do should center around students,” he said.

His goal as the new director is to build upon the work of those that came before him.

“The changes that should take priority should be those that make education a better, safer place for our Indigenous students,” he said. “The partnerships with Indigenous communities and knowing they have a place where they can send their community members and feel safe in doing so is really important to me.”

When he’s not sharing stories and working to improve the education system, Michael enjoys listening to his record collection, gardening, growing tobacco for ceremony, and playing team sports like baseball and hockey.

“I’m looking forward to the adventure and doing something new and challenging,” he said. “I’m definitely bringing my skates.”

You can reach Michael by email at mcalvert@nlc.bc.ca