Indigenous student success propelled by timely support


- Philip Cox

A young Indigenous man in an open navy blue oxford shirt and dark blue tee sits in the foreground of the image, smiling as he looks up out the corner of the frame. Blurred out behind him is the beautiful wood lattice of the First Peoples House ceremonial hall walls. Light filters through deep rafters from a skylight in the ceiling, falling brightly upon his head and shoulders.

One of Ryder Hagemeister’s favourite memories from his first semester at university last fall is a meal cooked and shared with a dozen or so friends from the Indigenous Living Learning Community in UVic Residence, where he currently resides.

“It was really great to have us all cooking together. We are all really close-knit and very kind to each other,” says Ryder, who is Métis and a member of the Bay Mills First Nation, and who came to UVic to study History and Business. “To be able to have that community and friendship is really, really great.”

Now in the second semester of his degree, as Ryder completes courses in the Faculty of Humanities’ Scholars program—a prestigious, invitation-only academic program for exceptional students—it’s hard to believe that, just one year ago, the rising cost of living had him wondering whether leaving home to study was possible at all.

“I remember, I was discussing university offers with my parents and calculating the rising costs of pursuing a degree away from home,” Ryder recalls. “They worked hard to fund my education, but it was only after receiving the Joyce Family Foundation Award for Indigenous Students and two other donor-funded scholarships that I was like ‘yes, I’m going to my first-choice university. One-hundred percent.’ I can’t describe the feeling of empowerment in saying ‘yes, I’m ready to go to UVic! I can go to the university that I want to go to!’ And that feeling of empowerment has really stuck with me.”

A journey of a thousand trials

Ryder grew up in Syilx Okanagan territory, far from the ancestral lands of his Anishnaabe father and Métis mother, who moved to BC from Ontario to escape intergenerational effects of colonization.

“My parents couldn’t conceive of having a family where they grew up. Through their determination to create a better life, they took a bold step by moving 4,000 km across the country to build a family in a safe space,” he explains.

But, growing up, Ryder had little connection to his Indigenous roots outside his family. His friends were all settlers with no knowledge of Indigenous history and his high school did not include Indigenous history, culture or language in its curriculum.

It wasn’t until the tenth grade that an all-too-brief series of encounters with an Indigenous counsellor stirred within him a deeper interest in his heritage and ancestral history—a discipline he’d found compelling, and for which he had a natural talent, since grade school.

It was the re-emergence of my Indigenous heritage that really put me on the path towards studying history in university. I wanted to find out what stories I could learn from my parents’ and ancestors’ experiences.

I was never taught anything about Residential schools in my high school. Very little was said. It was more of a passing fact. And I think that by being here at UVic I can help try to uncover that history in the local community where I grew up.”

—1st year undergraduate student Ryder Hagemeister (Métis/Bay Mills First Nation)

Set for Success

Ryder sits with May Sam, an Elder from the W̱JOȽEȽP (Tsartlip Nation).

Ryder sits with May Sam, an Elder from the W̱JOȽEȽP (Tsartlip Nation).

The transition from high school to university is rarely easy for anyone, but Ryder has found a wealth of supports at UVic that have helped set him up for success.

He credits the Indigenous Living Learning Community in particular for helping him to quickly find community and connect with Indigenous students, staff and mentors across the university.

Soon after moving into residence—away from home for the first time—Ryder had a deeply impactful visit from May Sam, an Elder from the W̱JOȽEȽP (Tsartlip Nation), as part of the səlxʷéyn sqʷél | SELW̱ÁN SḰÁL | Elders' Voices program.

“May Sam came to visit us in the Indigenous Living Learning Community and personally welcome us to the territory,” he recalls. “That honour and the sense of belonging that you gain from having a local Elder welcome you to the territory, despite being a visitor, is just… hard to put into words. It’s so valuable what she gives. Her presence is so comforting to have, especially in an environment as challenging as university can be, with the stress of courses and trying to live on your own for the first time.”

Ryder has since also connected with mentors through the LE,NOṈET’s Campus Cousin program and attended professional development events like the Indigenous Career Fair at the First Peoples House. He also cites the Native Students Union and Indigenous Student Lounge for creating spaces and hosting events that have helped him through his journey.

“The supports here definitely help. Having these mentorships and opportunities help welcome students like me to this university and really allow us to explore our culture and focus on our education,” he says.

What I would say to Indigenous students considering UVic is that you’re welcome here. It’s a welcoming place that allows us to really practice our culture and celebrate our diversity. The amount of support you’ll find is invaluable. I think this university offers something that no other university can. You’ll never find anything else like it.”


A holistic approach to Indigenous student success

Ryder shares a laugh with co-residents of the Indigenous Living Learning Community, Ariel (left) and Tiffany (right) outside of Sŋéqə ʔéʔləŋ (Sngequ House).

Ryder shares a laugh with co-residents of the Indigenous Living Learning Community, Ariel (left) and Tiffany (right) outside of Sŋéqə ʔéʔləŋ (Sngequ House).

The Joyce Family Foundation Award for Indigenous Students supports students with demonstrated financial need who have overcome adversity and demonstrated their potential to excel in post-secondary education. It generously provides recurring funding to recipients for up to three years. 

Financial awards like this one are part of the university’s holistic approach to supporting Indigenous student success from application to convocation and beyond.

Along with supports provided by the university, they are part of UVic’s pledge to uphold ʔetalnəwəl | ÁTOL,NEUEL | Respecting the rights of one another and being in right relationships with all things

“Scholarships, bursaries and programs that are specific to Indigenous students are really important and very impactful, because Indigenous students face a number of unique challenges when they come to university,” explains Qwul’sih’yah’maht, Robina Thomas, UVic’s Vice-President Indigenous.

“Our commitment to Indigenous student success is evident in the newly released Indigenous plan, Xʷkʷənəŋistəl | W̱ȻENEṈISTEL | Helping to move each other forward. The name of the plan in and of itself is about us all doing this work together. That’s a really important aspect of the work that we do here at the University of Victoria.”

Looking to give?

Support Elders Engagement at UVic with a gift to ITOTELNEW̱TEL ȽTE: LEARNING FROM ONE ANOTHER (Elder Engagement Fund).


In this story

Keywords: community, student life, Indigenous

People: Ryder Hagemeister

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