As a student at CBU in the early 1990s, Laurianne Sylvester can recall how welcomed and supported she felt on campus as a Mi’kmaw student. Now, as the newly appointed Dean of Unama’ki College, Laurianne has ambitious goals of building upon and enhancing the services offered to create a supportive learning environment for Mi’kmaw student success.
Born and raised as a Mi’kmaw woman in Membertou First Nation, Laurianne has worked in education for 20 years. Her educational journey began in her home community as an elementary teacher. She also served as Vice Principal of Membertou Elementary and, for more than 10 years, as the Director of Academic Services of (formerly First Nation School Success Program) Mi’kmaw Kina’matnewey (MK).
Laurianne holds a Bachelor of Arts from CBU, a Bachelor of Education from St. FX and a Master’s in Education, Curriculum and Diverse Learners from Mount St. Vincent University. She is now working towards completing her Master’s in Leadership in Education from Acadia University. Over the years, Laurianne has also participated on many boards, including the MK Board of Directors, Unama’ki College Advisory Board and the MSVU Board of Governors.
When Laurianne graduated high school she moved to Truro, Nova Scotia to attend Teacher’s College and found herself missing her family and her community. Moving to Truro was her first time living away from home, and she didn’t feel a sense of belonging and felt a little out of place. She moved back home and one year later Laurianne enrolled at then UCCB.
“When I came to CBU, which was UCCB at the time, I wasn’t sure what to expect. But when I was on campus, there was a support system in place for Mi’kmaw students,” says Laurianne. “At the time, there was one small office for Mi’kmaw students in the Marvin Harvey Building. There was only one door to the small centre, so you saw your friends and classmates all the time. The older students would help the younger students; there was support for course selection, paper writing, tutoring, and you never felt alone.”
It is this first-hand experience as a Mi’kmaw student, combined with her deep love of her culture and her formal education, that Laurianne plans to draw on to assist her in her new role as Dean of Unama’ki College. Her goal is to continue and nurture the support for Indigenous students, not only through their educational experience but their overall wellbeing.
“When this position first came up, I couldn’t see myself in the role. But I started doing further research and began to see that everything that I have worked on in my career so far could be applied to this role,” says Laurianne. “To read CBU’s strategic priorities of Investing in Students and Indigenizing the L’nu Way is empowering to me. You have an entire University community that is dedicated and committed to goals that bring in our Mi’kmaw (L’nu) people and acknowledge our culture all for a richer educational experience for everyone; that is what I want to be a part of.”
Drawn to the strong leadership of Stephen Augustine, Vice President, Indigenous Affairs and President Dingwall, along with the powerful Strategic Plan and Academic Plan, any hesitations Laurianne had of applying for the role quickly disappeared.
With the recent discoveries of hundreds of unmarked graves found at former Residential Schools across Canada and the long history of racism, oppression and discrimination of Indigenous cultures, Unama’ki College and the supports it offers will become even more prevalent in the coming years.
“We hurt with our brothers and sisters nationally; there is a trickle that goes through our communities. The hurt does not end with the survivors of residential schools. The families of those survivors are also affected through intergenerational trauma,” says Laurianne. “There are going to be students attending CBU who have been affected by intergenerational trauma from residential schools, from Indian Day Schools and from the 60’s Scoop. All of these horrific traumas will affect our students in so many different ways, and the team at Unama’ki College will be there to support them.”
Laurianne recognizes that some members of the Alumni family may not know how they can support L’nu communities and students. Her advice is to learn more, reflect on the past and recognize and remove any misconceptions.
“Learn more about the experiences and contributions of Indigenous people in our country,” says Laurianne. “Learn not only about the past but understand the present, the beauty and the successes as well. Learn as much as you can.”