Simon Fraser University is graduating its largest group of Indigenous students ever this year — a milestone for the institution.
Mary Teegee is one of the recent graduates from the MBA in Indigenous business and leadership program and winner of the Dean's Convocational Medal.
Teegee says this year's cohort is a testament to the resiliency of Indigenous people.
"It's about time... it's great that we have these numbers, but they're still absolutely a lot more that we can do. The numbers have to keep increasing," she says.
This year, 164 Indigenous students graduated in several different programs, including 60 students from Indigenous language programs and 26 from the executive MBA in Indigenous business and leadership.
Teegee is the executive director of Child and Family Services for Carrier Sekani Family Services in Prince George.
She plans to use her new knowledge and skills to develop new models of child and family services.
"So there's a lot of opportunity... to bring it forward so that we could get to the next place of self-determination, and really breathe life into our own lives our own jurisdiction," she says.
At the start of the second year of the program, Teegee experienced two major losses; the deaths of both her son, Noah, and niece, Miranda.
She says it would have been easier to quit, but she persisted with the support of family.
"I think it is what Noah would have wanted, and what Miranda would have wanted... and how strong they were as individuals, and how they believed in me...I wanted to do right by them."
Teegee dedicated her dean's medal to both their memories.
Next year, she hopes the number of Indigenous SFU graduates doubles in size, and institutions take a deeper look at why it took so long to achieve this milestone.
"I think you have to look at the social issues that are impeding the success of our indigenous youth succeeding in high school and then post-secondary," she says.