Working at the Kainai Wellness Centre on the Blood Reserve gave Martin Eagle Child experience in both addictions and program delivery, and sparked an interest in becoming an addictions counsellor. A conversation with an adviser in the Faculty of Health Sciences helped him dig a little deeper. He talked about his experience in coordinating events and programs, including one highly successful event that drew more than 450 people and 200 companies, and how much he enjoyed that kind of work. The adviser suggested he consider the Bachelor of Health Sciences in Aboriginal Health program.

“I said ‘Sure, I’ll take aboriginal health if that means I’m going to be more of a manager,’” says Eagle Child.

He enrolled and worked part-time at the Kainai Transitional Centre while he studied. Then, last March his 80-year-old father broke his leg and needed care. Eagle Child had to quit his job and thought he might have to give up on his studies, too.

“I didn’t think I could do it,” he says. “I told my academic adviser I might have to quit because of my father. After I lost my job, I thought I wasn’t eligible for caregiver benefits, but my dad has a good doctor and she helped me get those benefits.”

The benefits, coupled with a scholarship from Indspire last October, gave Eagle Child the financial support he needed to continue his studies. The fact that classes were being held online due to the COVID-19 pandemic was actually a boon for Eagle Child because he could still attend using Zoom.

“Overall, I really appreciated the instructors,” says Eagle Child. “I told them my situation, but even before that I felt the instructors were very encouraging. I really appreciated Dr. Janice Victor. I took a couple of classes with her and she used circle learning where we all got to talk. For some things, non-natives don’t know about the reserves and we know about the reserves. In some of the discussions, we were telling them that the material in the book wasn’t right. We explained because of the Indian Act or the policies, the information is outdated.”

When Eagle Child initially set out to find a career, he set his sights on becoming an electrician. He was three years into his program when he suffered a herniated disc while working in Fort McMurray.

“When I came back home, I told my mom I didn’t think I could work in that field anymore because of my back,” he says. “She said an option was to go back to school. I was 36 years old and I didn’t have my Grade 12.”

He went to Lethbridge College to do upgrading and later transferred to the University of Lethbridge to complete his BA. While studying, he worked as a guard at the continuing care centre on the reserve and for the Blood Tribe Police.

“My eyes just opened up,” he says. “I saw all the addiction, all the social problems on the reserve. And a lot of them were my relatives. My father had worked for the police too, so I followed in his footsteps.”

Eagle Child began working in the addictions field after graduating. This work enabled him to help many individuals remain sober. The issues facing the reserve, including poverty and a lack of resources and services, made him want to contribute more, just like his parents had. His mother was a school teacher for 40 years and taught generations of students on the reserve. When people heard his last name, they’d tell him his mother had been their teacher and how good she was to them.

“They really appreciated her,” he says. “That rubbed off on me and my father was an addictions counsellor for 15 years. He worked at the Kainai Healing Lodge, but at that time they called it St. Paul’s Treatment Centre. I think that rubbed off on me, too.”

Now, Eagle Child is looking for a position where he can use his skills to help deliver health programs, from helping to obtain funding to implementing programs and services.

“My goal was to be educated enough so I will be an asset to any organization I work for,” he says.