Daniel Sims

Looking Inward and Looking Back: Associate Professor Daniel Sims Researches Shares the History of Home

He had to leave home to find his career but now that he’s found it, he gets to share the history of his home with his students as part of his job. Daniel Sims is a member of Tsay Keh Dene First Nation, a community that is eight to ten hours north of Prince George, BC. He was born in Prince George and lives there now, working as a faculty member of the University of Northern British Columbia. He teaches First Nations studies and has worked with the history department and the School of Education. Outside of teaching, he also does research. 

Getting started on his academic career he did his undergraduate degree at the Concordia University of Edmonton, first studying philosophy then switching to history and then Indigenous studies. He did his Masters and Doctoral degrees at the University of Alberta and got his first teaching job there. Eventually, he was offered his current job which allowed him to work closer to his home community. 

His advice for youth leaving home to study based on his experiences is to be prepared for culture shock and to have a sense of why you are going so you can anchor into that during times of isolation. Building your network is a way he suggests coping with being away, making friends and connections through social clubs and the Indigenous student centre at your university. 

To make things work financially in his own studies, Sims had student loans, band sponsorships, scholarships and bursaries. During his undergraduate degree he took two years off to work full time and he had roommates and got creative with his grocery budget to help offset his cost of living as a student.

Taking time away from school created challenges for Sims, given many of his friends graduated by the time he returned. Stepping away was devastating for him, but he grew a lot as a person working a blue collar job in industrial boiler repair. Outside of trades and academia, he’s also worked retail, door to door sales and tech support, experiences that shaped his worldview. 

Outside of finances, Sims faced challenges figuring out what he wanted to do and how to make things happen for himself in a university environment, given the path and his trajectory wasn’t always obvious. “It can be really easy to see them as insurmountable barriers. But often there are ways of actually getting over them, overcoming them,” he offers. Going into his Masters degree he had to do a year of qualifying studies, something he was not excited about, but in the end, he was able to start his PhD before he finished his Master’s program. “Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, there are other factors that come into play,” Sims says. 

As a professor, he had to make decisions about what classes to teach and which research to undertake without the guidance he was used to having as a student. Stepping back and finding perspective, he was able to identify people to help him make big decisions professionally. Sims learned valuable lessons along the way. “Just because you start down one path doesn't mean that you necessarily need to stay on that path till the end of time. If you find that things aren't working out, it's okay to change your mind to change what you're doing,” he reflects. 

"Just because you start down one path doesn't mean that you necessarily need to stay on that path till the end of time."

He’s also learned to think about adversity differently. “Recognize that even when things haven't worked out, at least in my view, you learn from it. It enriched your life, built your character.... It has a purpose. Even if you think something didn't need to happen, or it would have been better if it didn't happen, it still makes you ‘you’. I think that's one of the things to bear in mind when you're going through those hardships,” he offers. He also learned that while he felt like he was failing in front of an audience, most people are more concerned with themselves and not really paying attention to whether or not he’s succeeding. 

If he could give advice to his younger self it would be to exercise more and save his money. Outside of those more basic lessons, he would say, “It kind of all works out. It might not work out the way you want it to work out, and things might not go the way you want it to go, but it all works out. At the end of the day, your life is richer because of it.” 

To maintain his mental health, Sims takes the time to play, whether that’s video games, board games or with his pets. While he does some work on the weekends, he tries to maintain a balance of keeping that time for himself and that he doesn’t feel guilty about taking time off. He sees rest as integral to mental, physical and spiritual health. His research supervisor encouraged him that there would be days that he wouldn’t get things done and that would be okay. Sims works hard to build a network of people like his supervisor who he can talk to during good times and bad. 

While his job is important to him, Sims doesn’t make where he works his whole identity. When he introduces himself, he talks about coming from his home community. Where he comes from inspires his research as well, spending time learning about the history of his territories, his language and genealogy as a means of self discovery. He’s had the chance to make maps of his home community based on homestead records and to explore the relationships and family trees of the people in the area. Throughout the isolation of the pandemic, he was inspired by his family history on the trapline, knowing if they could spend months in isolation so could he. 

He had to leave home to find his career but now that he’s found it, Daniel Sims gets to share the history of his home community with his students as part of his job as an Assistant Professor at the University of Northern British Columbia. Engaging in self-study and academic instruction, his journey has come full circle and to the front of the classroom. Things didn’t always go the way he planned, but he and his students are richer for the adversity he faced and the lessons he’s learned along the way.

Thanks to Alison Tedford Seaweed for authoring this article.

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  • Career
  • Identity
    First Nations
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  • Province/Territory
    British Columbia
  • Date
    March 28, 2024
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