Blanche Cowley-Head was originally going to go to Brandon University. Then, a friend convinced her to come with her to the Saskatchewan Indian Federated College (SIFC) instead.
She says that year was the first of many years that students from the Opaskwayak Cree Nation in Manitoba would choose to attend SIFC.
As she recalls, that year about 5 students from her home reserve descended on the campus and what they found was nothing short of a new home. It was Blanche’s first time away from her home community, but she was surprised how quickly the university became a second home.
She also found her passion.
“I think for me, because I’d been through a secondary system in my home community that didn’t offer much about our own history and we didn’t get to study our own language, I felt like I’d come home,” says Blanche. “I got to study our history, take Cree classes, they introduced you to this whole world and it was so remarkable to me.”
However, getting used to Regina itself took a little more time.
“At first I felt naked and exposed because there were not many trees,” laughs Blanche. “Once I got used to it I loved it; it has its own beauty.”
Blanche also met her future husband at SIFC. After her first year, Blanche didn’t return home and instead took classes all summer. Her husband did the same thing. And since the campus wasn’t very busy, they had a chance to connect.
Blanche was taking her Indian Studies degree and her husband, Dean, was taking Fine Arts studying with the late Bob Boyer.
After graduation, Blanche and her husband moved on to the University of Saskatchewan and entered law. She eventually entered the graduate law program and studied international law, and her husband became a lawyer. In fact, he has just recently retired from practice.
The pair also got married on July 26th, 1986. Blanche wanted to wait until after Bill C-31 was passed because she wanted to decide if she would remain a member of her own first nation or join her husband’s, instead of having the choice made under the old Indian Act rules.
She says a lot of people asked her what she would do with a degree in Indian Studies, because it wasn’t like law or science. But that’s where her view of education is a little different.
“I always tell people to follow their passion,” says Blanche. She says with her degree she’s taught what was once known as Indian Studies which today is known as Indigenous Studies, as she also has her Bachelor of Education. In fact she had the chance to teach with one of her former instructors, Del Anaquod, at the university, as well as teaching in secondary schools.
She’s done research for land claims, genealogical research, and legal research for many different organizations and individuals – all because she followed her passion.
“For me, it had to do with waking up your own passion about an area, your own interest,” says Blanche. “I felt really fortunate I was able to plug in to our own history, our own culture.”
And she hopes other young Aboriginal students do the same, because the work will always come when you follow your passion.