Education for Enforcement: Suzanne Boucher-Hanna Builds Relationships with Respect
“Education is the only way to go. The only way that we can live our best Indigenous life is by being educated and that's how we can help our people. We do have to live in two worlds but by being educated, we can bring ourselves so much further,” Suzanne Boucher-Hanna explains. Originally from Fort Resolution, she is a member of Deninu Kųę́ First Nation.
Her family is from Rush River, a town that was displaced but she got to go back there a lot with her grandparents who were trappers. They prioritized her education and came back into town so she could go to school, then spent summers running traditional camps for kids. There were 12 other kids in her family and she spent her childhood on the land and being really connected to it.
Twenty years ago, Boucher-Hanna graduated from a natural resource technology program and found work as a renewable resource officer for a year. She went on to complete a certificate in management studies and later worked with the parks department and with highway patrol. She went back to school for a Bachelor of Conservation Enforcement in Applied Sciences, finishing her third year and direct field study.
From there, she got a job with the city as a municipal enforcement officer where she worked until she went back to finish her final year as a single parent of two kids. After she graduated, she got a job in Hay River and three years ago she changed positions to be the manager of liquor enforcement for her territories, a much-needed change and a role she enjoys.
She has advice for Indigenous students that have to leave their home community based on her own experiences, when she was afraid of change, the unknown and going out on her own. In the end, she found many new experiences and had a lot of fun, meeting new friends and taking new courses. It was a big change from the required courses she found boring in high school and an opportunity to pursue interests with likeminded people.
Through her own education, she was exposed to different worldviews and perspectives as one of the only Indigenous people in the program she took in Lethbridge for conservation enforcement. She learned about trophy hunting, a concept she had never heard of after growing up with the teaching that the whole animal should be eaten and nothing wasted. She was able to bring her own teachings and share them with her classmates.
Her daughter followed her example and is excelling in university herself as she studies social work. Boucher-Hanna’s children’s education motivated her to move where she did, so she knew that her kids would graduate from a good high school. Her son has grown up with a close group of friends and hopes to graduate there, too.
As a woman working in a male-dominated industry, Boucher-Hanna felt she had to work harder and know more than her male counterparts in order to be taken seriously. “It was really hard, but I just kept on doing what I knew was right,” she recalls. She would advocate for what she believed was right, for clients, hunters, and trappers. She also faced obstacles working as an Indigenous person and being in an enforcement role with people she grew up with.
In navigating the complexities of enforcement in her home community, Boucher-Hanna made an effort to connect with people and found it made her job easier. She was able to gain a lot of compliance just by treating people the way she wanted to be treated herself, with respect. The work she does helped her gain a thicker skin but she’s happy with what she’s doing and where she’s doing it.
If she could give a message to a younger version of yourself it would be, “Things will pass. Not everything will stay the same. There's going to be some hardships, but it will pass.” She remembers crying over things when she was young and then a few days later it would all settle out.
“When the bad things come, it's just part of growing and just learn more from it.”
To balance her mental health and well being, Boucher-Hanna learned about herself and what works for her through counselling. She didn’t just get support when things were tough, she saw her therapist regularly and still practices what she learned today. The other thing she learned to do was take time for herself for self care. Instead of using alcohol as a coping mechanism, she would do something that would make herself feel better after, like organizing things or cleaning her room. Being productive is important to her.
When she needs inspiration, she looks to her grandparents and her biological mother who went off to university after recovering from alcoholism. Her grandparetns instilled in her traditional values and that if she wanted to achieve anything, she had to do it herself. Her children give her the drive to succeed so she can provide for them and she grew up a lot raising her daughter.
In building her career, Suzanne Boucher has learned that education is the only way to go and the only way she can live her best Indigenous life. By educating herself, she’s able to help her people, live in two worlds and bring herself so much further. As an Indigenous woman in an enforcement role, she’s learned to break the mold and find a way to do what she does while staying true to herself. Treating others as she wants to be treated, she’s given respect and gained it back while making a difference in a community she loves.
Thanks to Alison Tedford Seaweed for authoring this article.
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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.