Navigating misrepresentation of Indigenous peoples within a university setting
Matrix Coding
Image by Eden Moon from Pixabay

In Anishinaabemowin (Ojibwe), the word for he/she scouts is nandawaatoo. As an Indigenous Undergraduate Research Assistant, I feel as though I have adopted the role of scout. One of my main responsibilities is to scout web portals for useful information and resources that could help Indigenous students. Although I cannot speak Ojibwe fluently, the language is embedded in my work and art practice.  Throughout my life, I have been faced with instances of casual racism in various educational institutions which made it difficult for me to engage with the education system.  

Basic Ojibwe introduction 

Boozhoo, aaniin, indiniwemaaganidog. Onyx indizhinikaaz. Winnipeg indoonjiba.  

Hello, all my relations. My name is Onyx. I am from Winnipeg. 

Normally, the speaker would also include a traditional name and/or a clan name, but I have not been bestowed with either yet. I am continuously learning and understand that dialects vary depending on the location.   

University introduction 

My name is Onyx Shelton, and I am an Indigenous Social Work student at the University of Calgary. I am of Anishinaabe and mixed settler descent, and a member of the Little Saskatchewan First Nation (Treaty 2 territory). I am from Winnipeg, Manitoba (Treaty 1 Territory) and I am grateful to reside on Treaty 7 Territory.  As a guest, I recognize and honour the original caretakers of this land and stand in solidarity with their aspirations.  


As a mature Indigenous student, navigating university was a big challenge —finding my voice, developing analytical skills, and applying them effectively proved to be rigorous work. Since elementary school, I rarely felt safe because of casual racism and the misrepresentation of Indigenous people. It was the support of a small community of Indigenous folx, staff, faculty, peers, and family that sustained me on my post-secondary educational journey. They have shared resources, defended me, and educated me to be a stronger scout for myself and the communities I belong to.  

I have had rewarding experiences participating in on-campus ceremonies, volunteering at the Writing Symbols Lodge, facilitating Indigenous youth leadership training, and conducting research with the Student Success Centre. Each of these endeavours has welcomed fresh goals and accompanying challenges. With the support of my band, Little Saskatchewan, as well as the Indigenous community at UCalgary, the Writing Symbols Lodge, and the Student Success Centre, I have effectively navigated through these challenges.  

Through these experiences, I have been able to develop stronger scouting techniques for locating valuable resources. While I still consider myself a beginner, I am committed to developing my scouting skills to better assist Indigenous students. I understand that finding these resources can be beneficial for personal use, sharing this knowledge with others encompasses reciprocity which fosters a sense of mutual support within our community.  

Casual racism 

Have you experienced or witnessed casual racism and do not know how to respond? You are not alone. Make sure to speak up about it. Reach out to faculty, staff and peers. Racism should be addressed. Sometimes it comes in the form of casual racism, such as a joke. Some people treat racist jokes as a non-issue, but for Indigenous students, we experience enough harm and emotional labour studying current and historical Canadian policies that directly affect us and our families. Navigating casual racism can be hurtful and intimidating, but I hope this resource helps you along your journey: How do you handle a racist Joke (YouTube) 

Additional resources and support: