Karrmen Crey

Making The Grade and Connections: Dr. Karrmen Crey Teaches Indigenous Media Studies

“I was one of those kids who loved reading, loved getting A's, loved doing well academically. I just kept wanting to do that my whole life,” recalls Dr. Karrmen Crey, a professor of Indigenous Media Studies at Simon Fraser University. She is a Sto:lo woman from Cheam band and lives in Burnaby. She decided on an academic career knowing she loved diving into complicated discussions about topics that interested her. As a high achiever in high school, she knew she wanted to keep going but took a gap year before starting university. 

At university, she completed two bachelor’s degrees, one at SFU in art and culture studies and one at UBC in First Nations studies. She completed her PhD at the University of California Los Angeles and returned to Canada in 2017. Her field of study, Indigenous media in Canada, studies film, video, television, and digital media where the key creators of that media are Indigenous. She works in the Communications Studies Department alongside other Indigenous media scholars who teach and builds the school’s capacity to support Indigenous students, faculty and their research. 

Growing up, Crey lived in Maple Ridge in a large family. Her dad, Ernie Crey, has been an advocate for fisheries, urban Indigenous peoples healthcare and urban Indigenous people generally, and for Sixties Scoop survivors. He wrote a book about the Sixties Scoop with Suzanne Fournier called Stolen From Our Embrace. He was elected chief of their community prior to his recent retirement. As a retiree, he’s remained an active commentator in the media on a range of social issues impacting Indigenous women, girls and youth. 

Her advice for Indigenous youth considering leaving their home communities to attend school would be to connect with the Indigenous student centre and with Indigenous advisors to access guidance for a smooth transition to post-secondary. Those supports were invaluable to Crey at both SFU and UBC. 

One of the obstacles Crey faced was trying to bridge the disconnect between the university and the band’s education department to ensure her tuition payments were made on time, a time-consuming and inconvenient effort supported where possible by the Registrar’s office. Beyond the administrative details, the classroom wasn’t always the most hospitable space when it came to discussions around Indigenous issues, depending on how informed students, instructors and teaching assistants are. 

“People don't always have a lot of practice talking about these issues going into the classroom,” Crey reflects, whether these situations arose from ignorance, hostility or naive assumptions.  As an undergrad at UBC, she and her research partner documented Indigenous student’s experiences with conversations that went off the rails around Indigenous issues in the classroom. 

Entitled “What I Learned in Class Today: Aboriginal Issues in the Classroom”, Crey compiled interviews on the subject and screened the film to share how Indigenous students were being impacted and hopefully prompt training for faculty and teaching assistants. They needed to learn how to respond effectively in the moment, whether with information or through strategies. 

Sadly, this work remains relevant as Indigenous students continue to face these challenges, Crey has noticed. “I think what I've really appreciated seeing is that as it was then as it is now is that a lot of Indigenous students lead the charge to force the university to address these issues. Something that is great is that Indigenous students on campus are so driven and motivated and unafraid to speak out and demand a change,” she reflects. 

"Something that is great is that Indigenous students on campus are so driven and motivated and unafraid to speak out and demand a change."

As an undergrad, she wasn’t as confident and assertive as students of today who are holding colonial institutions accountable for creating respectful learning environments. Crey was inspired by powerful, assertive peers and their boldness gave her confidence to address things.  

If she could give her younger self advice, Crey would suggest she gain perspective on what was worth being anxious about and what was not. As an anxious kid who grew into an anxious adult, she worried excessively. 

Illustration by Shaikara David

The other advice she would give herself would be around self-care and identifying what is non-negotiable for her wellness. Sleep, exercise, eating, are all things she can’t sacrifice in the name of productivity. She’s found it’s hard to get back on track once you start neglecting those things. “Start early with figuring out what is good for you, not just what you like, but what is actually good for you and stick to those things,” she advises. 

To maintain her mental health, Crey prioritizes things on a daily basis and realizes she can’t control everything. Her mantra “It is what it is” helps her reset when the unexpected happens. Through therapy, acupuncture, massage, figuring out how much time she needs to spend with people and what she needs from day to day, she’s learned how to take care of herself. Keeping things simple has also been key. “Everybody has their things in their life that are complicated. If you can simplify it, then you're already doing really well,” she advises. 

When it comes to inspiration, Crey has endless sources of hope. “I really do look to colleagues who have been fighting this fight and doing this work, whether they're very young or have been doing this work for many, many years or decades,” she shares. Decolonial and anticolonial work, especially done over decades, is hard work, she recognizes and she admires those who continue ethically while maintaining their integrity. From them, she learns to pick her battles, take care of herself and when to walk away. 

The rise of Indigenous youth activists energizes her, seeing them speaking out and engaging in ways that weren’t possible when she was growing up. She wants them to feel welcome to seek out support saying “Indigenous faculty on campus, professors, instructors and staff as well are looking to support Indigenous students, and we want to know you and meet you, and we're there for you as well. So don't be shy.” 

She reflects on how lonely it can be as the only Indigenous person in a space moving issues forward and she’s inspired by youth taking charge bringing their energy to important causes. Crey finds reassurance in the momentum that is being created and the ongoing relevance of Indigenous issues. 

Having opportunities to build connections with people outside of universities and to find ways to direct resources to support Indigenous priorities inspires Crey as a way of building coalitions and collaboration. “We want to be able to be there and be supportive and also participate,” she affirms.

As a kid who loved reading, getting A's, and doing well academically, Dr. Karrmen Crey kept wanting to do that her whole life. Now a professor of Indigenous media studies at Simon Fraser University, she continues to thrive in an academic environment and inspire new generations of Indigenous scholars. Grounded in her mantra, “it is what it is”, she brings her own experiences of advocacy and speaking out to help shape what it could be.

Thanks to Alison Tedford Seaweed for authoring this article.

  • 0:00 - Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit
  • 1:11 - Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua.
  • 2:22 - Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet
  • 3:33 - Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor

Key Parts

  • Career
  • Identity
    First Nations
  • Province/Territory
    British Columbia
  • Date
    April 3, 2024
  • PSI
    No items found.
  • Discussion Guide
    create to learn discuss

Similar Chats