When Amber Crittenden knows what she wants, she goes after it. Crittenden, who is Métis currently living on Vancouver Island, works as a program coordinator at Vancouver Island University, where she also attended, with two different programs.
Su’luqw’a Community Cousins is a program that’s all about uplifting Indigenous students and bringing them together to show them there’s a place for them at university.
“We have a place to belong. We all work together as mentors. We’d go out in community. I helped do the training, reach out to other students to join them on the program,” said Crittenden.
The other program is an Indigenous Youth Summer Camp and is for youth grades 8 to 12 and is all about getting them stoked for graduating and to think about what they want to do in their future.
When Crittenden was first starting out in school, she wanted to become a vet but started noticing her experience as a student “wasn’t the best.”
“I didn’t really fit in in a lot of my classes. Teachers would always call me up when there was a question about Indigenous content,” said Crittenden.
From these, she wondered how she could help students that felt like her and what else she could do to make sure others weren’t in similar situations, and volunteered with the Cousins Program.
This led to many opportunities, including speaking and attending conferences and eventually a full time position.
Crittenden has worked hard to get where she is, and has had to come through different obstacles to get there.
She says school was a big of a rough start for her, and that she always had this linear path in mind of what her life should be like: graduate high school, go to university and get funding, then find a job after.
But it didn’t turn out the way she thought. In eighth or ninth grade, her parents divorced and she wasn’t prepared for it.
“My parents, neither of them, graduated high school. So there wasn’t that sense of, you need to go to school and get a career. It was just like, Oh yeah, school’s there if you need it, but that’s okay.”
Crittenden dropped out of school at grade 11 after getting bullied and not feeling like she belonged there and says it was a “mutual breakup.”
Before leaving Alberta, she took a year of open studies at Mount Royal in Calgary and then decided she wanted to go to B.C.. So she applied for school at the University of British Columbia and was accepted.
“Then I came on a road trip to Vancouver Island and I visited the university campus and I just fell in love,” said Crittenden.
She says they had all the Indigenous languages on all the welcome signs, had elders on the campus, and had the Community Cousin program. She says just visiting the campus she felt supported.
Crittenden knew that’s the real school she wanted to attend, so on the ferry back she applied and got her transcripts together.
“Then I declined my offer from the other school and accepted the one to VIU and just came here. No plans. Packed up my Jeep. I didn’t have a house for two weeks.”
She camped in Wal-Mart parking lots up and down the island for two weeks before school started and until she eventually found a rental.
“It was tough, showering at truck stops, and in the ocean with biodegradable soap. But I grew up in poverty. I grew up in such harsh conditions. So I was like, ‘I’m prepared for this. I’m a fighter.’”
And for students leaving their community to go to post-secondary and beyond, she says it’s scary to plan and think about leaving, but encourages everyone to “just dream and make those goals to make that dream happen.”
“There’s so many people out there that will help you on that journey. You might not have met them yet, but you may already know them. But just ask those questions.”
Special thanks to Jasmine Kabatay for authoring this blog post.
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