Bridging legacies and supports

Human and Social Development

- Kate Hildebrandt

Mikara Pettman

When her job as a Youth Care Worker with the Cariboo-Chilcotin school district was cut last June, Mikara Pettman, 42, was worried. A happy, productive woman—an equal family partner, mother to two teens and active in her community—suddenly halted.  

Thankfully, with coursework completed toward her bachelor in Child and Youth Care, opportunity opened shortly after uncertainty struck.

“A job opened up with the Ministry of Children and Family Development,” she says. Unsure at first, she applied to serve as a child protection worker for the Province. When she spoke to the Ring at the end of October, Pettman had been on the job nine days.

“I feel right at home here,” she says. “There’s lots to learn and I’m still in that honeymoon phase but I’m using my learning and I’m working with a terrific team.” Pettman completed her degree online from her home in 100 Mile House and will travel to campus for this month’s convocation.

Advocacy and community support

A self-described helper by nature, Pettman has always been involved with youth in some shape or form. She started Cariboo Proud Parents, a support group for parents and caregivers of LGBTQ2 and their offspring. “We created a welcoming place for families,” says Pettman, be they straight, lesbian, bisexual, gay, queer, trans or Two-Spirit.

She speaks fondly of those awkward teen years as a powerful time of transition and growth. “It’s a dynamic time, too, when we start defining our own identities. I wanted to be there as a guide and a mentor. I really like that role.”

Cariboo Proud Parents helped to create a safe place for her son to come out to the community, she adds. “We talk about what it means when a young person ‘comes out’ and honours their true self. We talk about our perceptions of how they might be treated, and how we want to support parents to transform their thinking from fear to celebration.” Most have been fairly accepting, says Pettman, grateful to governments and leaders who encourage others not to discriminate. Her son is happy and doing well in grade 11.

Being active in the community comes naturally to Pettman who, in addition to owning and operating her own local toy and gift store for 16 years, was a La Leche League supporter, an elementary school Parent Advisory Committee volunteer, a board member with the local arts centre, and an avid arts supporter since childhood.

Arts and history as bridges to Indigenous knowledge

“My parents made their living from art,” she says. Her father, Graham Pettman, is a celebrated First Nation sculptor and painter whose soapstone carvings remain highly collectible. Her mom painted and did print work. Both are gifted artists and worked steadily when she was growing up, says Pettman. 

“The idea of supporting and nurturing our young people, who will grow up and look after us all, is very important to me.” While she was able to embrace these values while completing her degree, she says, the program also marked the start of her learning about her own identity as a First Nations woman in Canada. 

“This was not something I had learned at home or in school, so, I started to research my own history and Canada’s history,” adding that knowing who you are, knowing your value systems, is essential for success in a caring career.

To fully embrace her studies, Pettman took a leave from work, which made the financial cushion of scholarships so valuable. A proud recipient of the Tolmie-Wood Award, the Minerva Award, and the Inspire Award, Pettman says this support helped her find that second gear when course work became intense.

“I have a pretty high level of tenacity,” she admits. “I wanted this degree, and I didn’t really know what I was going to do with it until I fell in to the Indigenous learning stream. That’s when my transformation began.”
Pettman learned about her urban Alberta Aboriginal roots; her dad is of the Tallcree First Nation in Fort Vermilion. Her mother is Ukrainian born and raised in Vegreville. 

“When I feel certain tensions, that’s the sweet-spot of my learning. It may come as I interpret my dreams, conflict with academia, conflict with myself and my Indigenous and settler ways of knowing, being and doing. Even so, that is where these crossroads exist and, if I properly navigate these tensions, healing can take place.”

Sticking with her education also boosted her strength. She recalls the deep conversations she shared with fellow students as one of the great gifts of the program. “They taught me to go forward, to have faith in myself, to learn experientially, and to remember to set good boundaries.”

CYC professor Shanne McCaffrey says Pettman was a brilliant student who consistently came to her schoolwork “in a balanced way”—recognizing that balance and good practice go hand in hand. “Her wisdom, experience and maturity made a mark on all of us at CYC,” says McCaffrey. “We are proud and grateful to have her in our family and circle. The legacy of her practice with others will ripple outwards in all the circles she may step into.”  

Jin-Sun Yoon, also a CYC professor and a national 3M teaching award recipient, concurs. “She was one of those students who was so generous, intelligent, caring, and wise. From her first post, I knew I had someone really special in my class.”


In this story

Keywords: convocation, student life, graduation, alumni, youth, child and youth care, Indigenous

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