‘Make good connections and friendships’
Angela Levasseur is graduating at Fall Convocation 2018 with her PostBac in Education, her third degree from the U of M
It was about 7:45 a.m. on a Thursday morning in 1998, and Angela Levasseur was getting ready for a class in Native studies. She knew it was going to be a challenge to sit through it.
Her water had broken.
“I went to school anyway,” she says. “But it was hard to concentrate because the contractions were coming very fast.” He son Freddie was born that Friday night.
She recovered in hospital that weekend, but on Monday morning…
“I had him in a ‘snuggli’ with me in class,” she explains, matter-of-factly. “I breastfed him, and people were coming up to me in the classroom and asking me, ‘Is that a real baby?’”
“I’ve never missed a single day of classes,” she notes.
Although obviously among the most dedicated U of M students, Levasseur is not one to herald her own accomplishments. When she was contacted about a possible news story regarding her graduation this fall, she noted: “It is very contradictory to Nehetho (Cree) culture to boast or brag. I would only want to share my story to motivate or inspire other Indigenous people.”
Levasseur is graduating at Fall Convocation 2018 with her PostBac in Education. It’s her third degree from the U of M, having already completed degrees in Arts (BA/99) and Education (BEd/01).
A former resident of South Indian Lake/OPCN and Lynn Lake, she now lives in Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation in Nelson House near Thompson, Man., where she works as a teacher. She has two children and five stepchildren, and Freddie is in his second year of Engineering through the ENGAP program at the U of M. She is also delighted that some of her former students are now attending the U of M.
“I value education,” she explains. “I want to see more Indigenous students like myself attend and graduate from university.”
Levasseur has agreed to share her personal story with others because as she notes: “I considered myself to be not only a leader at the University of Manitoba, but a trailblazer for Indigenous people.”
In 1999, while co-president of the U of M Aboriginal Student Association (UMASA), Levasseur, under her maiden name Angela Busch, was honoured with an Aboriginal Youth Achievement Award for Cultural Awareness for her work coordinating the Pan Am Games’ Aboriginal cultural village. That same year, she was the recipient of the Manitoba Aboriginal Youth Achievement Award for Culture.
Levasseur later became President of UMASA and was the first Indigenous person to sit on the U of M Board of Governors. Further, she was the first Indigenous person to run in the UMSU presidential elections. (“I lost to Steven Fletcher,” she notes.)
Despite the challenges of attending classes so far from home, plus raising children while completing her degrees, Levasseur was a determined student and even made the Dean’s List in 2001. This year, while finishing her PostBac, she managed a 4.33 GPA, while juggling travel time and family.
Twenty years ago, she had opportunities to meet both Elijah Harper and Ovide Mercredi at the U of M. They encouraged her to be a visible example for others both in politics and in her dedication to schoolwork. Another role model, Elder Walter Bonaise, was instrumental in guiding her as she navigated her early years at university.
“He taught me how to focus on my goal of getting a good education and not straying too far off my path. Bonaise taught me a lot about our Nehetho culture and ceremonies,” she says.
Levasseur recalls that some of her professors were much more effective than others at communicating to students. In particular, she was most in awe of Dr. Emma LaRocque and Dr. Fred Shore, the latter of whom who taught her the history of Indigenous peoples in Canada.
“I wanted to be just like him, “ she says wistfully. “He didn’t just read things from the lectern in a monotonous voice, but really spoke to us. It was captivating.”
Levasseur gave back to her broader community of students at the U of M through helping them edit and write their papers, and generally supporting them in their studies.
She recommends that Indigenous students coming to campus take advantage of the resources here.
“Get in touch with Elders,” she advises. “Make good connections and friendships. Learn from Indigenous professors. Migizii Agamik is a very important place; it’s the climate and your surroundings that are important for education as much as the buildings and the classes.”
But of all her accomplishments, from doing coursework while juggling family commitments, to giving a voice to Indigenous students through her involvement in university politics, there is one achievement of which she is most proud.
“Out of everything, my greatest accomplishment is that I am the grandmother of a beautiful five month old baby girl named Heidi,” she beams.