Dwayne Drescher is an Indigenous language teacher from Inuvik, Northwest Territories, where he lives with his wife and two (soon to be three) children. He is Inuvialuit and teaches Inuvialuktun at the elementary school in Inuvik.
Dwayne completed the ITEP (Indian Teacher Education Program) at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon — a long way from home for an Inuk from the Mackenzie Delta. But Dwayne was good with language, a natural teacher, and had a family history with ITEP in Saskatoon — his father had taken the same program back in the 1990s.
“I was working at the library one day and a college professor talked to me, because I had my dog there, and I only spoke Inuvialuktun to the dog. She was working with Elders, working on a pilot program for an Indigenous language instructor program at their college. Apparently my old instructor brought my name up, and that day I remember talking to my parents and they told me I’ve always been good with my language and multiple dialects.”
“I just kind of went from there. My dad’s always said, ‘You’re a good teacher. You’ve already been teaching people how to skateboard, how to play soccer and so on and so forth.’ It was just kind of like a natural thing for me… that’s when I decided to go down to university and go get my degree.”
Born in Fort Smith and living in Inuvik, Dwayne is well aware of the challenges of accessing education in the North. “I know for a lot of families and people, sometimes travel is just not an option. And that’s where you want to look at things like online courses, and right now everybody’s learning online. Everyone’s gaining that experience, and nowadays that’s an option for people. But it wasn’t for me when I was younger. We have internet, but you only get a certain amount of gigabytes per month. And even now that’s still an issue.”
But for many Indigenous youth from the North, moving away from home to pursue educational opportunities is still a reality, one that many, including Dwayne, have struggled with. “For me, I had that opportunity (to travel) growing up. I was constantly in different sports, so I didn’t mind traveling, but it is my first time away from my parents. I was a young man, and of course I was getting into trouble with alcohol and drugs. I want to be honest. And it didn’t really work out for me in my first year in university. I ended up failing class, and I was thrown in probation for a year. And that’s when I was working at home. I was living under my parents’ roof and it sucked. That’s when I was working at the library and I was a bartender and a bouncer.”
“I was doing whatever I could to try and get out of my parents’ house. When that opportunity to go into the language program arose, I challenged myself because I made that mistake. And I chose right then and there, if I was going to take on that position, that I was going to stop doing all that stuff and I wasn’t going to be a hypocrite.”
“It’s been about eight years now that I’ve been sober and nothing but good things came my way since then. I just feel very blessed with those things that came with my sobriety and finding my own identity.”
“I’m not saying don’t go out and experiment when you’re a young person, going out for the very first time into university and school and living on your own, but just make sure that you’re doing it responsibly and smart.”
There were additional challenges to leaving home as well, beyond the temptations, but Dwayne was fortunate in being able to find support from his loved ones. “When I was going to university, I was away from my family and I remember at that time we didn’t really have this technology, or at least I didn’t. I was constantly getting a hold of my parents through the phone. But I remember it was tough feeling alone, and what helped me along and to overcome that was my parents, they were really supportive. Back then, I think all my friends, at the distance, they were still being supportive online too. I remember going to the gym a lot and that really helped. I was fortunate. I ended up finding the love of my life while attending university. And when I took that time away for college, we were in a long-distance relationship. She was very supportive too and helped me along the way.”
Dwayne also made sure he was smart with both his money, and his time. “I remember getting extra funds because money just makes things easier. It does. I’m sure you may be putting a lot of extra time in to get that money, but when you’re smart with your time… I remember studying way ahead of time before my tests. I always took that last week prior to the quiz and I’d just relax and take it easy. People thought I was nuts because I wasn’t studying that night before. I finished my essays within a week before they are due, so I had time to edit them. I remember one of my professors telling me each time you edit your essays, think about it. It’s like an extra 5%. So I always thought about that and just always trying to do my very best. My father always told me to lead with your best foot forward.”
The Connected North Future Pathways program is brought to you by TakingITGlobal with support from the RBC Foundation. Special thanks to
Keith Collier for authoring this blog post.
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