"I want to help students sort through questions like 'Where do I belong? Am I Indigenous enough?' and to be able to help them move through two worlds. I want these students to know that yes you belong here, and yes you are Indigenous enough just as you are."
Who is Leah on Campus?
Leah Lychowyd is a counsellor for Indigenous students at Selkirk College. In her role, she helps prospective and current self-identified Indigenous students navigate post-secondary life. This could mean anything from identifying available funding, connecting students to cultural activities on campus and helping students exploring their relationship to their culture. She offers personal, academic and career counselling. She is indispensable to Indigenous students at Selkirk College. Get to know her!
What does Leah celebrate about her job?
"I love connecting with our students. I look forward to our Indigenous grad each year. Having students and their families with Elders and everyone there honouring their accomplishments, it touches my heart every year," she says. "I also love seeing students achieve things they didn't think they could and feeling like they are part of a community that's like a family on campus."
Who is Leah personally?
Leah is originally from Thunder Bay in Northern Ontario. Her family still lives there and she visits as often as she can. She has mixed ancestry and is Ojibway/Anishinaabe and Ukrainian. In her free time, Leah grounds herself through beadwork (It's beautiful!) and enjoying the quiet of nature. She also has a greenhouse full of plants and an overflowing garden.
Who is Leah professionally?
Leah has always known helping people would be fulfilling as a career. She achieved her bachelor's degree in psychology before moving to Nelson 13 years ago. Bringing that passion to Selkirk College, she is doing what she loves.
"I feel honoured hearing people's stories and being an Anishinaabe person, I want to be the support person I wish I had when I was an undergrad. I want to help students sort through questions like 'where do I belong? Am I Indigenous enough?' and to be able to help them move through walking in two worlds. These [post-secondary institutions] systems weren't necessarily designed for us... Our Indigenous ways of being in the world can often feel like it clashes up against this mainstream culture."
"I want these students to know that yes you belong here, and yes you are Indigenous enough just as you are."
Wanting to connect more with the Indigenous community and her own identity, she enrolled in an Indigenized Masters of Counselling Psychology at the University of Victoria. There she achieved her degree in 2016.
"It was a really beautiful experience. I was with a cohort that was mostly Indigenous students, learning how to Indigenize counselling practice by weaving both worldviews together in our work."
Leah has also worked for Interior Health as our region's Aboriginal patient navigator and in counselling at community mental health and substance use.
How does Leah feel about Truth and Reconciliation today?
"I feel like these past couple weeks, the collective grief that Indigenous people have been feeling is massive and really, really difficult. It shows how far we still have to go considering the TRC Calls to Action being released in 2015," she says. "Community members are sad and frustrated because these are things we've been saying for so long. I think we are really only in the truth part of truth and reconciliation."
Why does Leah want to celebrate Indigenous joy and brilliance?
"The message that most people receive is that Indigenous people are struggling and I think it is essential to challenge that as incomplete and deficit-based. It's important to provide balance with a strengths-based narrative that shows the resilience of our people. Two themes that I am excited about celebrating this upcoming year are Indigenous joy and Indigenous brilliance."
"When I sit with our Elders, I hear about how much has changed and how much hasn't. Knowing that humour and laughter and our connections to culture through song, language and land, is a lot to hold onto for hope for our future generations."