Gene Gallant

From Always Moving to Finding His Place: Gene Gallant’s Exploration of Indigenous Education

He went out for groceries and came back with a new job. Gene Gallant is a Cree Métis man living in New Westminster and his spiritual name means ‘Cree Man by the Big Water’. Born and raised in the Nanaimo area, he is now the Dean of Educational Outreach at the Native Education College in Vancouver. He ended up in this role after 25 years with the Vancouver School Board after a former classmate from his Native Indian Teachers Education Program (NITEP) made him an offer he couldn’t turn down. 

More than a former classmate, Gallant once lived in her basement and she later became the president of the Native Education College. She offered him this position that was aligned with his talents when they bumped into each outside a grocery store. What he does at work now is connect with First Nations and organizations to identify their educational needs and see how the College can help. Sometimes the path to educational success for a Nation might lead to a different school, but he does what he can to connect opportunities for learning to community needs. 

Growing up his own educational path was winding, with his family moving six times in elementary school and four times in high school. Moving so often, he had to learn to make friends. When it came time for post secondary he wasn’t ready but he faced an ultimatum from his father: go to university or move out. 

He tried out post secondary studies and had a hard time until an elder from the Friendship Centre connected him with the NITEP program at UBC. Thanks to the First Nations House of Learning, he really thrived alongside other Indigenous students. He was hired by the school board before he graduated and stayed there until he was recruited to his current post. 

It wasn’t always smooth sailing like the transition to his new role. When he was younger and dealing with family issues and past trauma, he turned to alcohol as a way to cope and escape. While it felt like it improved his ability to socialize and make friends, it also started to take away some of his opportunities. He was able to course correct and turn things around but not all of his family members could do so themselves. Now well along his healing path, his friendships with his cousins were able to grow into a circle of support and shared problem solving. 

To manage his mental wellness in a more healthy way, he looks to his role models in music and sport. His strong connections at the First Nations House of Learning helped him find a new family and he was adopted by one of the elders who led a men’s group. He learned to be a firekeeper for the sweat and to attend sundance. Ceremony has helped him cope with life’s challenges and build relationships. 

If he could give advice to his younger self it would be, “Believe in yourself, because you're a good person. Everybody can do something bad every once in a while. Lots of good people have bad stuff happen to them but that doesn't mean they're a bad person.” It’s a message he received from an elder recently and one he needed when he was younger. 

Thinking about what advice to give young Indigenous people thinking about leaving their home communities for school or travel, he thinks back to his own experiences. When he was younger and heartbroken from a breakup, he got a job tree planting so he could save money and travel. “I found myself when I was away from my home. But what I found most was what my home taught me,” he recalls. 

Those experiences are why he wants to tell youth heading out into the world, “know where you come from. If you leave, you're always connected to where you come from and you can go back if you want to. You can stay connected.” He knows that some of the places and experiences he’s come from have been hard, but they made him who he is. Reflecting on those opportunities to come back down the road, he thinks of the elders who love the time for reconnection, even for a visit or a hello on the street. 

To provide some inspiration he would also like to say, “You might not know who you are at the moment, or you might know who you are, if you're lucky enough. But you're always going to grow and you have a choice in that. Sometimes the choices are hard and sometimes they suck, but it doesn't mean that you're a bad person, or that something that happens to you has to stick to you. You can move on from it and not everybody knows.”

He encourages a daily practice of looking in the mirror and saying “I love you” to start and check in about the things you have to be grateful for. Gratitude helped him come out of a time when he was at his lowest. He wants young people to know that the world is their oyster and they can do whatever they want to do with hard work. “There's so much opportunity, especially for people with First Nations ancestry. Now, there is a lot of support. It's a lot different from when I was young,” he reflects. 

Gene Gallant went out for groceries and came back with a new job that nourishes his heart. While his first taste of post secondary life was challenging, he found a place where he could thrive. Now he works with communities so their youth can do the same, the Cree Man by the Big Water, guiding them into safe harbour to learn and grow. 

Thanks to Alison Tedford Seaweed for authoring this article.

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Key Parts

  • Career
  • Identity
    First Nations
    ,
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  • Province/Territory
    British Columbia
  • Date
    December 11, 2023
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