Indigenous Alumnus Discovers Voice at Selkirk College
Arriving in West Kootenay from a small community in Northern Alberta, Selkirk College alumnus Rodney Noskiye carried with him big dreams of a future focused on making a difference.
Rodney Noskiye arrived to the West Kootenay from his isolated Northern Alberta community in 2011 in search of new opportunity. When he enrolled at Selkirk College’s Castlegar Campus as student, the vibrations of culture shock were fresh.
A graduate of the Social Service Worker Program in 2014, Noskiye is back in Alberta working in Cold Lake as a social worker by day and teaching Cree language classes at night. The journey to get to get this point of his life has been filled with hardship and struggle, but today the 36-year-old is proud to be making a difference in lives of others.
“Selkirk College has given me a voice,” says Noskiye. “When I was a student, people would come up to me and ask for my input. Everybody was patient and I never felt judged, it gave me the confidence and made me feel like I belonged. That voice that I never had is important for me now, I make sure to tell everybody that it is Selkirk College that gave me that voice.”
Overcoming Challenges of Youth
Growing up in the Little Red River Cree Nation northeast of High Level, Noskiye’s family lived in Fox Lake where there is no year-round road access. The youngest of nine children, both Noskiye’s parents were placed in residential school and the multi-generational scars of the system played a continuous part in his early years. Despite the pain and distrust they experienced, Noskiye’s parents emphasized the value of an education.
“Even though they went to residential school, education was important and they tried to pass that on to the children,” he says. “When I was young, I would ask my dad if I could go with him hunting, but he made me stay home to go to school.”
By Grade 9, Noskiye’s enthusiasm for learning in a formal setting waned.
“I never really thought I would get out of my community because I didn’t see a future after adolescence,” he says. “I was spiraling downwards and didn’t really have to deal with my emotions because everybody was telling me that I had to bottle it up and not talk about anything.”
As his attendance at school became less frequent, Noskiye managed to keep battling through the anxiety and stress of his youth that provided barriers to the life he wanted. He had still not earned his high school diploma by his early-20s, but was working in the Fox Lake school as an educational assistant. While working at the school, Noskiye met his future wife who had arrived to the community to work as a high school teacher.
When the couple’s daughter was born in 2010, they made the painful decision to leave Fox Lake for the West Kootenay where his wife’s parents lived just south of Castlegar in Genelle. It was first time Noskiye had ever traveled outside of Alberta.
“I realized that I needed to further my education at a higher level because I wanted to provide an example to my daughter,” Noskiye says. “It was very difficult to leave because it is important to grow up within your culture, but I know my culture very well and knew I could bring it with me. I committed to teaching her our culture wherever we went.”
Finding a Fresh Start at Selkirk College
The summer he arrived, Noskiye stopped by the Castlegar Campus during the quietest months of the year. Simply exploring his options at that point, he left a hand-written note on the door of the Indigenous Services office. It didn’t take long for him to hear back and was quickly welcomed to explore his future.
Starting in the School of Academic Upgrading, it didn’t take long for Noskiye to realize Selkirk College was a different than the post-experience he imagined. One of his first classes was high school English where he was taught by now-retired instructor Gord Turner.
“He made me feel welcome and made me feel confident about my writing skills,” Noskiye explains. “Simply calling a person by their name, in a classroom setting you get the feeling that they are there for you and not just a teacher.”
With his high school requirements secured, Noskiye entered the Social Worker Program in 2013. By that time, confidence was building and he was becoming a valued part of the student body serving as an active member of the Aboriginal Advisory Committee. He spoke at the official opening of the Gathering Place on the Castlegar Campus in May 2012.
“When I was in the Social Worker Program, we were taught that it is important to help teach people to be more confident in themselves,” he says. “That is when I started to be more confident in myself, that was the point when I started to tell people that I was fluent in Cree. Up until that point, I was reluctant because I was made to believe that I shouldn’t tell people who I am as a person. My language made me who I am as a person, so knowing both English and Cree helped me understand both worlds. We need to be confident in ourselves and who we are in order to be able to succeed outside of our culture.”
A Voice for Making Change
After graduation in 2014, Noskiye’s wife took a teaching job in Cold Lake and the family moved back to Alberta. He soon found employment as a family support worker where he primarily focuses on youth—both Indigenous and non-Indigenous—who face challenging obstacles. Connecting through his comforting brand of humour, Noskiye is combining his post-secondary education with his own upbringing on a daily basis.
“I grew up in a difficult environment and I had to figure out how to help myself get through everything,” says Noskiye, who returned to Selkirk College in 2018-2019 to complete a Human Services Diploma. “There was a lot of trauma in my life growing up and I use that to help connect with the clients. I make them feel that they don’t have to walk this road alone, the journey they are on is not one they take by themselves.”
His daughter is now nine and Noskiye continues to place focus on teaching her the Cree culture. Going one step further, in his spare time he teaches Cree classes at the Cold Lake Community Learning Centre for those who have lost connection with their language and those wanting to explore it deeper for the first time.
“It’s important to learn the language because you need to connect with your people when you go back home,” Noskiye says. “Some isolated areas don’t really pass that down because there was a push to get out and get an English education. It’s important to hear Elders speak and pass down the knowledge in their own language.”
Noskiye knows that the road to reconciliation is a long one and there are still plenty of bumps along the way. Through the education he received while attending Selkirk College, the proud alumnus has discovered a voice that is helping bring change.
“I find people are now willing to share their culture because they are feeling more comfortable being who they are as Indigenous people,” he says. “There are more people willing to share with people who are willing to learn.”