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Kiana Tait, Access student

Access student makes her grandfather proud

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March 26, 2021 — 

When Kiana Tait recently lost her grandfather, she was reminded how much he inspired her by helping people in his lifetime. She knew she wanted to be like him and make a difference, and so she is continuing to pursue a health career at the University of Manitoba.

“I am doing that for my grandfather. He was really proud of me,” says the Access student from Norway House.

The Access Program at the University of Manitoba provides holistic support to Indigenous, newcomer, and other UM students, empowering them on their path to success as they begin their academic journey in a variety of fields of study.

Tait’s grandfather overcame addiction and with his sobriety and practicing of his culture, he helped a lot of people, she says, noting how her parents were quite young when they had her and she spent lots of time with him when she was growing up. Her grandfather left school after Grade 7 to support his family, married young, and worked hard. He actively practiced his culture and spoke Cree.

In her immediate family, Tait is the eldest of five girls and the first sister to go to university to study. “My family is really proud of me. I hope to inspire my sisters and cousins. Not a lot of Indigenous youth have positive influences. I want to be a positive role model.”

A new hospital, the Norway House Health Centre of Excellence, is coming to her home community and when she completes her studies, Tait plans to return home to work there. “Growing up in Norway House, there are no permanent doctors and few Indigenous doctors. Since I started high school, I knew I wanted to get into health care.”

Her personal experiences of a lack of comprehensive health care in her community as well as her family’s own health challenges illustrated a local need she would like to help fill. Like many children of her generation, Tait was born in Winnipeg. At the time, mothers only gave birth in their home community if necessary. And when she broke her leg at 16, she was sent to Winnipeg by plane with her mother the next morning. Also, health conditions like diabetes run in her family.

Her high school guidance counsellor first encouraged Tait to come to UM to attend the Health Quest Career Camp, a program to introduce high school students to university and health careers. The counsellors were Access students. More recently, Tait has also served as a counsellor at the camp.

Starting her university studies was a big shock as she had never been away from her family, did not know how to take the bus or how to drive in the city. “I am lucky to have had the Access Program. Some of my friends joined too, and I also met some of my closest friends through Access. The people at Access were so warm and welcoming. I spent a lot of time there.”

Because she grew up with her cultural traditions, she especially appreciates the program’s cultural components including the ceremonies offered by Unkan (Grandfather) Wanbdi Wakita. “The smell (of sweetgrass) reminds me of home.”

As she works on her Bachelor of Health Sciences degree, and considers whether she will pursue medicine or occupational therapy after that, Tait is reminded how Access helped her make the transition to university and encourages other aspiring students to apply to the program. From the smaller first-year classes, to the support of the personal and academic counselling, she knows attending UM with the Access Program made all the difference.

“I would encourage anyone who feels unsure about anything university-related to apply.  I didn’t know what to expect. I always encourage others to apply and I share my own experience. It helped me a lot.”

Students planning to start university this fall must apply to the Access Program by May 1.

UMExtended.ca/Access

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