Where are you from? What got you interested in the career path you chose?
Oki, I am Wilma Spear Chief, my Blackfoot name is Ookaki, (Sleeping Woman). I am Kainaikii from the Blood Tribe. I grew up on the Blood reserve, but also lived in Fort Macleod where my mother worked for several years. I have lived in Lethbridge for over 30 years.
I grew up during a time when the Indian Residential Schools System was ending and experienced first-hand the impacts on myself, family and community. I was encouraged by my mother and others to attend university. I graduated from the U of L with a BA in psychology. I worked in the social services field for a few years and later, when I worked in community addictions training, I met a psychologist who encouraged me to attend graduate school. I attended John F. Kennedy University in Orinda, California and received a master’s degree in transpersonal psychology in 1983. Upon graduating, I moved to Lethbridge and eventually completed the requirements to become a registered psychologist. I have been a licensed psychologist for 33 years.
I have worked in many areas of counselling, including working in a mental health clinic, consulting, training and, prior to joining the University, I was in private practice for 15 years.
How long have you been at the U of L and what do you do here?
I started at the University in December 2020. I am the Indigenous counsellor at the University’s counselling centre. My job is to provide a choice for counselling to students who self-identify as First Nations, Métis or Inuit.
What’s the best part of your job?
I enjoy several aspects of my job. The best part is knowing I am providing support to Indigenous students in their journey to completing their degree. I also enjoy working and sharing with my colleagues in counselling who have varied training and experiences. Finally, I really appreciate my colleagues at the Iikaisskini Centre and working with the Elders in Residence. After having been private practice for several years, I am enjoying sharing ideas with the staff, knowing that with our combined efforts, the Indigenous students have supports they can access to help them succeed at university.
Given that it’s Mental Health week, what do you wish everyone understood about mental health? Many people have struggled with their mental health because of the pandemic — do you have any advice for coping during this time?
Our well-being and mental health are our responsibilities. We need to take care of ourselves when our lives feel out of balance. I would like people to know it’s OK to seek support and receive help to restore this balance. All of us have been impacted by the pandemic in various ways and I believe the social isolation and separation from family and friends has, and continues to have, the most impact in our lives. Human beings need other human beings to thrive in this world. It’s important to reach out and connect with others in safe ways during this time. When we seek balance in our lives, we also need to look at what we are doing to take care of not only our emotional needs, but also our physical, intellectual and spiritual needs.
What’s one thing most people don’t know about you?
I love to hike and have been an avid hiker for several years. I also enjoy quilting and love travelling.