By Shari Narine
KAINAI NATION, Alta.
For Dr. Betty Bastien, being recognized by alumni at the University of Calgary has completed the circle: She would not have been able to undertake the work she did if she had not received her degrees at UCalgary.
“I’d like to say that for the University of Calgary to recognize the work that I have done is humbling and it’s a deep honour. At the same time, it’s like a circle come around. It’s gratitude for what they gave me, the gift that they gave me, so I can do the work that I have done,” said Bastien, who is one of five recipients of UCalgary’s annual Arch Awards in the category of alumni achievement.
Bastien is being recognized for her work in co-developing and implementing the Bachelor of Social Work Learning Circle, which she is now delivering to communities at Red Crow Community College, Medicine Hat College, and Hobbema Cultural College.
Bastien, a member of the Piikani Nation, had a Bachelor of Arts degree in sociology from the University of Lethbridge before she pursued social work at UCalgary. There, she earned her Bachelor and Master degrees in Social Work.
As a child, she watched the “stark differences” between those living on reserve and the “newcomers.” Her degree in sociology helped her to understand why those differences existed. Her subsequent degrees in social work provided her with the skills to address those differences.
Bastien applauds the faculty of Social Work and UCalgary for creating the space for Indigenous knowledge systems.
This allowed her to flourish, she says, and get three substantial grants with colleague Dr. William Pelech to work with Elders from the Blood Nation.
Prior to that, University of Calgary Press published Bastien’s book “Blackfoot Ways of Knowing,” which served as the foundation of her work at the U of C. It was also her doctoral dissertation.
Bastien earned her Ph.D. from the California Institute of Integral Studies. That work was furthered through research and a curriculum developed which included Indigenous knowledge systems and started with the learning circles.
“The gifts that U of C gave me were just incredible,” she said.
It is important the social work curriculum has an Indigenous component because it’s only through having Indigenous knowledge systems can Indigenous people thrive, Bastien said.
“If you do not have your own knowledge systems then you are forever held hostage in one paradigm (colonization) and how can people flourish if they’re using an alien form of knowing? The ways of knowing in any culture, any society, that’s the way you evolve.”
The embodiment of the Indigenous knowledge systems makes people stronger, she adds.
“We transfer who we are by being who we are. The intention of it is that it will have a ripple effect in terms of how people use it to address the challenges and the barriers of the day … That’s what education does. You’re embodied with a set of knowledge and skills and then when you interact with a specific population … then those are what are transferred so the people themselves will use them to address their challenges of the day. So it’s from an Indigenous knowledge system as opposed to a western knowledge system.”
Bastien hopes other First Nation students attending UCalgary will benefit from the acknowledgement she has received.
“If you follow your heart in what you need to do in this time, it falls into place. I’m amazed that I was able to do what I did,” she said.
The University of Calgary Alumni Association’s annual Arch Awards recognize alumni who have improved their profession or community through commitment, leadership and driving positive change close to home and around the globe.
“As leaders in their community and their profession, these incredible individuals embody many of the University of Calgary’s values and aspirations and serve as tremendous role models to our current and future students,” said Michael Sclafani, associate vice president of alumni engagement.
This year’s awards will be presented at a gala ceremony on Sept. 22, kicking off the university’s annual Alumni Weekend celebration.