AU student’s leadership potential recognized
An Athabasca University (AU) student has earned a spot as part of the prestigious Governor General’s Canadian Leadership Conference in Ontario and Quebec this spring.
Shelley Wiart, currently finished her fourth year of a Bachelor of Arts program in in the Faculty of Humanities & Social Sciences, already has some impressive achievements under her belt—enhanced in no small part because of the opportunities available to her through AU, and the fact she has the flexibility to work something like a three-week conference into her busy academic schedule.
“It’s exciting because I can finish my university education anywhere, and I can work around any kinds of conference or research that I want to do through Athabasca University,” she said. “I wouldn’t have this opportunity if I was in a regular institution.”
Wiart is one of 250 Canadians who have been invited to participate in the conference, which begins with a three-day opening plenary in Ontario, and culminates with a three-day plenary in Quebec City.
In between, participants are divided into 16 study groups and each travels to a different region of the country for nine days. Wiart said based on her own interest in exploring Indigenous women’s health issues, she hopes to travel to Nunavut, the Yukon, or Newfoundland and Labrador.
“I’m really hoping to learn more about Indigenous people across Canada,” she said. “I’m hoping to learn more about the health needs of the Indigenous population wherever we go, and I’m hoping to form all kinds of different social connections within the group.”
Participants are chosen from every region of the country, and to qualify Wiart had to do an interview with a representative from Alberta, answering a series of questions about leadership.
“I just talked about what it means to be a leader as an Indigenous woman,” she said. “That means following matriarchal teachings.”
She was able to draw on her own experiences working with Indigenous women, and was also able to draw on the example her grandmother, Anne Enge, set for her.
She returned to university at age 42, as a single mother of seven children, leaving an abusive marriage and moving from Yellowknife, N.W.T., to Calgary, Alta., to complete a degree in social work. Upon returning to the North, Enge became a community leader, a well-known social worker, and a school trustee.
“She was a single parent, she had seven kids, she moved away from her community and lived in what was a very racist environment—sometimes she was the only Indigenous woman in class,” Wiart said. “I think about that and realize I don’t have it hard at all. I can do anything in comparison to her.”
Prior to registering with AU, Wiart had already taken on a leadership role in creating and leading the Women Warriors program, which offers health support to Indigenous women in the Lloydminster area, where she lives with her family.
And since beginning her studies, Wiart has had the opportunity to conduct a health research project focused on providing Indigenous women in Alberta and the Northwest Territories the opportunity to tell their own stories related to their health and their experiences with the healthcare system.
This in turn has provided her the opportunity to share those stories with healthcare practitioners and public agencies—she was in fact conducting cultural competency training in the Northwest Territories when she did her interview to participate in the leadership conference.
Wiart is quick to credit the support she has had from AU—including Dr. Janelle Baker, who supervised her health research project—with providing the opportunity to transform her own life, and to transform the communities she calls home.
“I have to be a student here because this is what works for my lifestyle,” she said. “I couldn’t be in Yellowknife for a week, doing cultural competency training and interviewing for all kinds of conferences and doing as much traveling and speaking as I do if I wasn’t a student at AU.”