Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Oki, my name is Shanda Webber and my Blackfoot name is Naamoipiiksii, Hummingbird, which I am honoured to have been gifted by Blackfoot Elder, Peter Weasel Moccasin. I consider myself a very humble Indigenous woman who is continuing to learn my Ojibway history and culture, of which my father is from the Brokenhead First Nation, and my mother is of settler origin.
I am truly honoured to be a visitor on Blackfoot territory and I want to thank our many Elders and community members, especially Peter Weasel Moccasin and Betty Ann Little Wolf for treating me like family and for continuing to teach me the traditional Blackfoot teachings, ways of knowing and culture.
I grew up in the Crowsnest Pass and moved to Lethbridge in 2001 to pursue a post-secondary education. I graduated from ULethbridge in 2005 with a Bachelor of Arts, majoring in anthropology, with great distinction. During my last year of studies, I completed my honours thesis entitled, What is “Indian” Anyways?, where I took an in-depth examination of what it means to be an Indigenous person transitioning from reserve to urban life and dealing with issues of racism and discrimination. It was during this time that I truly began to reflect on my own identity as an Indigenous woman and began to make true connections in the Blackfoot community as I began to volunteer at the Sik-ooh-kotoki Friendship Centre and Native Women’s Transition Home. I want to give a shout out to my mentor, my professor and now colleague, Dr. Jan Newberry, for giving me the encouragement to explore my Indigenous identity and pursue my dreams of working within community.
I came to the University after working for 15 years at Lethbridge College with a focus on Indigenous education. My professional career consisted of numerous roles and positions beginning with being the Aboriginal liaison officer, to later moving to the position of Aboriginal academic advisor, to becoming the manager of recruitment and Indigenous services. Most recently, I oversaw the development and implementation of the institutional Lethbridge College Niitsitapi Strategy. The framework was developed upon the Niitsitapi Knowledge Paradigm or Niitsitapiipaitapiiyssin, which was our foundation as we began the groundwork for meeting our goals of cultural relevance and upholding our commitment to honouring the land and knowledge of the Blackfoot people. I was inducted into the University’s of Lethbridge Alumni Honour Society in 2018 for my work in Indigenization and being seen as an advocate for Indigenous learners.
How long have you been at the U of L and what do you do here?
I have been at ULethbridge for six months beginning in October 2021. I am the manager of strategic Indigenous learning initiatives for the Mastercard Foundation EleV Program within Iniskim Indigenous Relations. Currently, I am responsible for the development and implementation of the institutional Indigenous Learning Framework and I hope to continue to create meaningful community engagement opportunities with Blackfoot community members, stakeholders, students, faculty and staff. I am truly blessed to work with an amazing team of community Navigators and I am truly thankful to them for welcoming me with open arms and providing such a positive team environment where we can learn from each other and laugh a lot!
To provide a quick overview, EleV is an innovative partnership between the Blackfoot Confederacy, the University of Lethbridge and the Mastercard Foundation that was established in 2019. The partnership aims to strengthen pathways and transitions to post-secondary education, improve supports on-campus and in community, and align with regional and Nation-specific economic development opportunities.
Upcoming initiatives include the official launch of the EleV Program in May, which will include a traditional naming ceremony and blessing. Following the launch, the Navigator team will begin to conduct community engagement sessions within our Blackfoot communities of Kainai, Piikani and Siksika. In June, the team will host the annual Mastercard Network Gathering where EleV partners from across Canada will come together at the University of Lethbridge to share wise practices, address systems change and focus on programming that supports Indigenous learners on their pathways to post-secondary education, economic opportunities and beyond.
What's the best part of your job?
The best part of my job is building genuine connections with our students, staff, faculty, Elders and community members. It is about providing pathways for Indigenous youth to pursue a post-secondary education and let them know that their dreams are possible.
It is about seeing students who I recruited or advised at the College, who are now attending or have already graduated from the University and they are now going back to work in their communities or pursue a career in their field of interest. It is about our Indigenous youth beginning to be the future leaders and caregivers of today and tomorrow and knowing I played a small role in their journey.
What do you enjoy doing outside of work?
Family is everything to me – I am married to my amazing, supportive husband Matt, and together we have one child, Ari, who is the light of our lives, as well as a chiweenie named Bosco. I love doing anything with my boys – from going camping in the summer, to having family movie night, to visiting with Grandma and Papa – I am content whenever I am with my family and friends. I also love to golf and go vacationing. And with the easing of restrictions, we are looking forward to finally taking Ari on his first plane ride to see the ocean!