Educating The Next Generation: The Teacher’s Daughter Becomes The Teacher
“I can still remember the smell of the libraries in the universities, just running around and smelling the books and touching everything,” Kelsey Fraser remembered. Raised by a single mom who was furthering her own education, Fraser learned that education is beneficial to a person’s future.
“The smell of a library reminds me of all the years that my mother would take me to campus. Sometimes if she didn't have a babysitter, I'd be sitting in the back of the lecture hall coloring or just really focused on education in our home,” she continued. Her mom works in Indigenous education, and so is she. Fraser is also inspired by her grandmother, a residential school survivor who still works and goes to school
“I've always strived to give indigenous kids confidence and to motivate them to be successful individuals.”
Fraser is a Cree woman from Mistawasis First Nation in Saskatchewan and teaches at an Indigenous focused school in Calgary. She’s always been passionate about working with Indigenous youth and considers boosting their confidence early on to be crucial. Fraser worked as a summer student at the White Buffalo Youth Lodge as a summer student and youth care worker, working with vulnerable children and families. In the core of Saskatoon, she worked alongside a variety of professionals, building her social skills and passion to help.
“Our really vulnerable kiddos, they really tug at my heartstrings. I do my best to not only teach the curriculum, but to teach love and kindness, all those values that we weren't taught in education. Those are values and skills that you learn through the feelings that other people give you.”
Fraser excelled in school, engaging in sports and politics and taking on the role of a leader. She became a mom at sixteen and resumed her studies ten days later with her baby on her back. Fraser kept herself on the honour roll. She graduated and worked as a server for a few years, until she realized something was missing in her life.
Living in government housing, working a minimum wage job, she struggled with her bills. She became pregnant with her daughter and decided to pursue higher education, starting with an educational assistant program. After she graduated, she realized that the education assistant role wasn’t what she needed, she wanted to be a teacher. She learned about the Indian Teacher Education Program and took the plunge.
“I think it's really important that we try and get as many of our indigenous kids graduated and into post secondary. It will always be part of my pedagogy to give confidence to our indigenous kiddos and young people.”
Her advice for youth considering leaving home to pursue education or a career is about taking risks and reaching out. “Sometimes you’ve got to be very sociable to get the things that you need. That means stepping out of your comfort zone and meeting new people, trying new things, putting yourself in situations where you might feel uncomfortable, but I've always used the motto that without change, there's no growth. Without a little bit of uncomfortability, there's no change there either,” she explained.
Our kids are going to look back and be very proud of the accomplishments that we've achieved. That's why we do this, for the next generations.
If she could give advice to her younger self, she would say "Don't give up. Keep going, keep pushing forward. It's okay to have a day to cry. It's okay to have write off days." Fraser believes in taking mental health breaks and focusing on what makes you happy. Most of all she believes in focusing on having gratitude for all that she has and on her purpose. Her attention is now on getting a mortgage and finding community for herself in Calgary.
I want my kids to see me be successful, to not rely on anyone else, to go out there and be a go-getter.
When the pandemic hit, Fraser sent out letters to her students, knowing few of them could read or respond. She mourned classroom learning, explaining, “We listen and we talk and we laugh and we cry and we move our hands. That's how we learn.” In the meantime, she would cook, clean, write, read and maintain her home to stay busy, thinking of the day she would be rejoined by her students and resume her role as teacher, where she wants to be.
“I could have taken a few different paths, but the ones that I've chosen have gotten me here. I'm very grateful at the end of the day,” she remarked. Inspired by the matriarchs of her family, she is looking to set an example for her own children who joined her along her educational path when they were even too young to walk. After growing up with the smell of libraries in universities, Kelsey Fraser is helping a new generation learn that they can hope for more education, and find their own paths with confidence.
Thanks to Alison Tedford Seaweed for writing this story.
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.