Haylee Joelle Gardiner

From the Prairies to the Ocean: Haylee Joelle Gardiner's Dreams Take Flight in University

She recently moved from the Prairies to the ocean and now Haylee Joelle Gardiner is watching her dreams take flight in University. Born and raised in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, she relocated to Victoria to study biology. She was motivated to pursue higher education because her mother didn’t have the chance and she wanted to show her mom that all the struggles she went through were worth it.

Vancouver Island is where she decided to go to school after doing the Raven program, an Indigenous basic military qualification. Gardiner fell in love with the island and got to explore a lot of it. With family nearby, she feels lucky to be in a place that has always been special to her. She loves the ocean, trees and animals near her new home.

The Raven program is a competitive program open to applicants across Canada and it’s based in the Navy. The six-week program covers weapons handling, drill ceremony and there’s a lot of hard work. Gardiner feels the effort is worth it because it’s also a lot of fun and a good opportunity to meet people. To get in, applicants need to have finished grade 10 and have completed their English and Math.

Going to high school during the pandemic was particularly challenging but she took advantage of the time to study. Gardiner focused on a few subjects at a time and studied hard. Math was tricky because of the limited time that was allowed to get through each chapter but she was ultimately able to graduate early. She was able to have an in-person graduation ceremony at the end of all that hard work.

Her advice for Indigenous students thinking of leaving their home community to pursue post-secondary education is empowering. “Definitely do your research. Have what you want to pursue. Ask questions. There's no such thing as a bad question because this is your future you're talking about. If you're going to school, you want to look at your scholarships, bursaries and grants, and build a support network,” she suggests. She also recommends planning ahead for what you can do when you are struggling and identifying who you can lean on.

Challenges aren’t new to Gardiner. Growing up in a single income household, outings and sports weren’t an option for her and her brother. She felt left out of all the experiences she saw her peers enjoying, but she overcame those barriers by taking control of her life and not giving into feeling sorry for herself. She looked for positive environments, kept faith in the future and found passion in basketball. “I wouldn't be the person I am without that experience,” she explains.

In the beginning of her basketball journey, she played community ball until she was invited to play on a club team. Gardiner got to go to Langley, BC for a national tournament and had a lot of fun. She played in Living Skies Indigenous Basketball League and really enjoyed the experience, making friends and memories.

If she could give advice to her younger self it would be, “You can't feel good without feeling the bad. Go on through it.” Gardiner’s been through hard times and that’s a message she’s come back to for reassurance along the way. To keep herself well, she stays physically active through sports and also through crafting. She makes dream catchers, jewelry, and paints as creative outlets. “Find your outlets, if it's music, art, dance, but make sure you have that physical aspect of yourself, because the positives are amazing for you,” she suggests.

What inspires Gardiner comes from what she didn’t grow up with. She likes to do things her younger self would be proud of and to try to eat healthier, be physically fit, go on adventures and strive for her best. She believes in listening to her elders and their stories and connecting to Mother Earth.

Haylee Joelle Gardiner moved from the Prairies to the ocean and now she’s watching her dreams take flight in University. With a strong spirit built on the basketball court, she’s reaching higher in her education and finding a new home team where she belongs. Taking on challenges her mother never had the chance to do, she’s on a path to something different in a place that stole her heart.

Thanks to Alison Tedford Seaweed for authoring this article.

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  • Career
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  • Date
    November 6, 2023
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