Christine Cyr Native Studies Alumni
Briefly, tell us about your job. What do you find most rewarding? What are your greatest challenges within this profession?
I am the director of the Indigenous Student Centre. My job consists of working with a team that includes Elders to provide the very best service to students. We offer advising, programming, cultural activities, leadership and mentorship opportunities. My specific role is to manage the Indigenous Student Centre team. My personal goal is to lead and empower the team in our collective goal of inspiring, guiding and supporting students in the very best ways possible. What’s rewarding to me is that every single day, I feel like I’m making a difference. I have a job that is challenging, engaging and that requires me to use all of my gifts and skills in service to others.
What experiences and activities helped you to map out your career pathway?
My life has been filled with challenges that included growing up in poverty, being a young single mother and being disconnected from my cultural identity. The thing that kept me grounded and strong was the belief that others had in me. I had so many “champions” who pushed me, challenged, nurtured and had faith in me – even when I didn’t have faith in myself.
One of the most important experiences of my life happened in my second year of university. Up until that point, I had remained disconnected from my culture because of the environment that I had been raised in. I took a course called “Aboriginal Wisdom and Spirituality.” This would be the first step in my lifelong commitment to being a proud Indigenous woman. It was because of this course that I realized my passion for working with and for Indigenous peoples.
As a student, did you see yourself in your current career? What stayed the same and/or changed?
I didn’t start out with a plan to work in a post-secondary environment but I knew that education was going to be the way out of poverty. When I first came to university, I wanted to be a nurse. It was a career that I understood, that would allow me to help others and that I could be proud of. Once I was here, I changed my mind a few times, eventually ending up in pre-med. But medical internships and the dawning realization of what that career would mean to my family life eventually led me to decide that becoming a doctor wasn’t for me.
When I graduated from the University of Manitoba, I was very fortunate that I was able to work in areas that were important to me like teaching traditional Indigenous values in science to First Nations students throughout Manitoba and then helping Indigenous university graduates find meaningful employment. Those were great experiences that solidified my passion for working with the Indigenous community.
What advice do you have for students who are interested in pursuing a degree in native studies?
My major was native studies and the courses I took in that department ended up defining both my life and career path. For me, learning about the true history of Canada and the Indigenous peoples of Canada who have been visionaries and heroes has been transformative. I learned about Indigenous women in Canada, language and the land and the spiritual traditions of our ancestors. It was one of the most eye-opening, stimulating and transformative experiences of my life.
For students interested in pursuing an Arts degree, I would say that your experience will be fulfilling on so many levels. Arts courses stretch your mind, they challenge you to question what you know and how you see the world and help you to define your place in the world.
What job search advice do you have for students and recent graduates?
My best advice for all students is to begin to build your career while you are here, while you are a student. We have an outstanding Career Services department with career consultants who can help you navigate your choices and changes. When you put a huge effort into getting an excellent education, part of that has to be preparing for what comes next.
While I was a student, I had to opportunity to do two summer-long internships. Even though I didn’t end up in that career field, I am so happy I had the chance to explore these options while I was a student and there was still time to make course and program changes. I encourage all students to make career planning part of their education.
Tell us a fun fact about your career path.
During one of my summer internships, I worked in a genetics research lab and the first time I had to handle real live human tissue samples, I prepared all of my tools, psyched myself up and then promptly fainted. It was one of my first clues that maybe I wasn’t cut out for a career in medicine.