“Oki, nitankoowa Omahkamootstakii. My Blackfoot name is on Omah’kamootstakii which in English means ‘big victory.’ My English name is Haley.” Haley Shade (BSc ‘21) grew up with grandparents fluent in the Blackfoot language. They encouraged Haley to integrate Blackfoot words into her conversation and embrace her heritage. “I think this will be useful in my medical career, working with elders and community members who speak Blackfoot as their first language,” she explains. Haley will be attending the Cumming School of Medicine at the University of Calgary (UCalgary) next fall after receiving three separate medical school offers.
Haley reflected on her original goals when trying to decide which offer aligned best with her future career. “Going back to my philosophy of why I pursued medicine, I want to work with my First Nation’s community and to show other Indigenous students that as long as you work hard, you can achieve anything. As we say in Blackfoot, Iikaakimaat, which means ‘to try hard,’” Haley says. UCalgary is located on her home territory, the traditional Treaty 7 territory. Finding a school where she could work with neighbouring Indigenous communities and fellow Indigenous students was one of Haley’s deciding factors.
Haley will graduate this spring with her bachelor’s degree in biological sciences, complete with four independent studies, three NSERC awards and her honours’ thesis. There is no magic secret to Haley’s astounding achievements. They are a result of her genuine passion and incredible work ethic. “Pursue something you’re passionate about and something that will make you embrace each day. When you find your passion, your calling, things will unfold, and you’ll be happy. Take all the available opportunities,” Haley encourages.
Haley completed most of her research in biological sciences professor Dr. Roy Golsteyn’s cancer cell research lab. She explains, “A lot of my work focuses on bridging the gap between Indigenous knowledge in medicine and western science. The work we’re focused on is not seeking to validate either source of knowledge but to use them together in order to develop a more comprehensive understanding of local prairie plants that we, as Blackfoot peoples, have used since time immemorial.” In the lab, Haley works with human cancer cells for experimental purposes alongside common cell biology techniques. She adds, “This research has probably been the best experience that I’ve had at the University of Lethbridge.”
Haley will be working with Dr. Golsteyn again this summer with her last NSERC student research award, a sentimental finale to her time at uLethbridge. She expresses profound gratitude for her professors, especially Dr. Golsteyn, who greatly influenced her university experience. “It all went by so fast! I’ve been with Dr. Golsteyn since the fall of 2018. He has been my mentor since the day I started working in his lab. Not only did he provide me with research opportunities, but he believed in me, and he was my sounding board for professional advice. I truly believe I wouldn’t be the student I am without the support and mentorship he’s given me.”
Reflecting on her time in the lab, Haley encourages students to embrace the opportunities available to succeed at uLethbridge. While she was initially overwhelmed while pursuing medical school, she overcame difficulty with determination. “Keep your end goal in sight and focus on that. Especially for premedical students, it can feel like you’re not as good as other students. But I think the most important realization that I had as an undergraduate student is by focusing on what inspires you and what you want to achieve and then trying hard, anything is possible.”
A lot of my work focuses on bridging the gap between Indigenous knowledge in medicine and western science. The work we’re focused on is not seeking to validate either source of knowledge but to use them together in order to develop a more comprehensive understanding of local prairie plants that we, as Blackfoot peoples, have used since time immemorial.
There is not always a significant representation of Indigenous students in the life sciences, and as someone who has been through the process, she has some advice. “I want to encourage Indigenous youth to believe they can accomplish anything they set their mind to. Although it may be difficult, and you may encounter people who think that you’re not suited to that type of profession, keep your goals in sight. I think that the University of Lethbridge is the prime university to accomplish those dreams and aspirations. I can only speak for myself, but here I was able to accomplish that, and I hope that serves as a reminder that other Indigenous students can achieve what I did. I’m certainly not special. I just worked hard and kept my end goal in sight.”
Being a part of the Science Commons grand opening, the ‘Big Bang’ weekend, was one of Haley’s most memorable experiences. “Seeing the public and the community come into the facility and engage with student researchers was exciting, and it was nice to know we played a part in something that will be there for future U of L students and faculty,” she says. Haley, like most students, had to adapt to a new type of learning during the pandemic, switching out the library for her home basement. Luckily, she could still enjoy the beautiful lab space while working on her honours’ thesis.
“Unfortunately, COVID has taken a toll on everybody, especially those it has touched directly in terms of illness or death. Moving forward, something to acknowledge and recognize is the resiliency within our community. Especially in university students,” Haley notes. Haley picked up cross-stitching as her quarantine hobby and plans to stitch throughout the summer. Her unique life outlook, research skill and compassion for her community are sure to touch countless lives.