School of the World: Katelynn Herchak Maps a Journey of Success & Impact
“School was very, very tough for me, because I was born and raised in the South. When we talk about Indigenous people and Indigenous education, I never really saw my identity reflected in the academia, being half Inuk,” Katelynne Herchak explains. You wouldn’t know that school was hard for
her now that she is a master’s student at the University of Victoria.
“There is beauty in education and different ways of knowing and doing and being come differently to different people. There's no bad knowledge.”
She’s Inuk on her father's side, the Adams’ from Rankin Inlet. Her career and educational path has weaved from family support work to a Bachelor of Justice studies, and now studying geography, looking at Indigenous governance and ways of knowing and being over land and water within Tanzania. Her work combines law, policy, and community building.
In 2016, Herchak participated in the global affairs program for the International Indigenous youth Internship Program. She lived and worked in Colombia for four months and got to learn about international development and the parallels between colonialism within Canada and the global South through the fully funded program.
After returning to Canada, she didn't really know what she wanted to do. At her mom’s suggestion, she completed a 10-month Indigenous family support worker program. She completed two practicums and participated in Katimavik. She lived in Moncton, New Brunswick and Sudbury Ontario for six months and completed projects with her 11 roommates.
On her return from BC, she joined Videa, where she helps run the international Indigenous Youth Internship Program where interns go to Zambia and Uganda. They’ve worked with almost 150 indigenous youth from all across the country. Herchak’s work is building decolonial education knowledge resources for organizations that don't know where to start with their decolonial and reconciliation process.
After completing her intensive Bachelor’s degree program at Royal Roads, she intended to take a break but the Master’s program description she read inspired her to go back to school once more. “Continuing these building these relationships with somebody that's always going to hold you up because they believe in you and they see something in you that you are not quite ready to see in yourself, I think that's what really kept me going,” she explains, reflecting on the encouraging teachers and community partnerships that have helped her persevere.
Formal education has helped her build a career that fits her so well, but she acknowledges not all learning happens at school. “School is important. But also, there's so much more learning that happens outside the classroom, like experiential learning, too. It's important to also take those co op opportunities, those internship opportunities,” she elaborates.
Her university experience wasn’t all smooth sailing. Not taking her studies seriously at one point nearly landed her on academic probation. Herchak left for a while and came back, recharged. She found some of her social connections were getting in the way. “I was in just really stagnant friendships and relationships that really held me back from being able to be the person that I wanted to,” she recalls. “While you're learning and you're growing, not everybody can join you on that journey,” she continues.
For youth considering leaving home for studies or work, she advises, “It's okay to say yes to opportunities. That doesn't mean that the people in your community aren't important to you anymore. It's okay to leave home for a little while and come back. Those things are completely fine to do and I encourage you to do them, even if they scare you a little bit and make you a little bit uncomfortable. Because that's where the best growth comes from.”
In her spare time, Herchak has a podcast with her roommate about cultural reclamation and revitalization, she paints and writes. She has traditional stick and poke tattoos on her hands and some other tattoos that are significant to her, but her family asked her not to do any face tattoos. her culture is visible on her skin and in the way she moves in the world, helping educational institutions decolonize to better serve learners.
The path from family support work to justice studies to geography to Indigenous governance and education might not have been a straight line, but her post-secondary education has her more than qualified to map a journey to success and meaningful impact. After travelling the world, she’s found a way to make it a better place, bringing her unique perspective and the strength of community members who believe in her. Katelynne Herchak might not have seen herself represented in Indigenous education growing up, but she’s showing up to change that now and her presence is powerful.
Thanks to Alison Tedford Seaweed for authoring this article.
Future Pathways Fireside Chats are a project of TakingITGlobal's Connected North Program.
Funding is generously provided by the RBC Foundation in support of RBC Future Launch, and the Government of Canada's Supports for Student Learning program.