Fast forward to today and Hayden, who is in Vancouver Island University's Master of Education program, is researching ways to incorporate more Indigenous culture and knowledge into BC’s public-school curriculum. He has also taken a leading role in encouraging Indigenous youth to connect with culture.

Tell us a bit about yourself.

My Name is Hayden Kenneth Taylor. I am a member of the Haisla Nation, located in Kitamaat Village. My biological mother is the late Brenda McMillan, also from the Haisla Nation. My biological father is Herbert Pete, from the Wet’suwet’’en Nation. My adoptive parents are Al Browning and the late Lisa Browning. I was born in Vancouver and raised on the Sunshine Coast. I hold a Bachelor of Arts and Science degree from Quest University Canada and a Bachelor of Education degree from VIU. I am currently in the Master of Education in Educational Leadership program. I am a parent of two beautiful children.

Why did you choose VIU? 

Growing up on the Sunshine Coast, I was used to a small-town feeling. The Island is made up of a collection of small communities that made me feel at home. Looking further into Vancouver Island University, I found the institution’s goals and commitments towards the Indigenous culture is what I was looking for.

What made you want to become a teacher?

During high school, I hid my cultural identity due to the influence of those around me about Indigenous people. In Grade 8 and for the following eight years, I would present myself as Hawaiian. It was not until I was barefoot and blindfolded in the middle of the forest with the task of finding the Indigenous Elder who was hidden and beating his drum that I experienced something that would change everything. The journey, 40 minutes of exploring the forest, would re-ignite my curiosity to rediscover my cultural identity. From that moment, I would focus my studies on Indigenous culture. Jumping forward four years, I would find myself travelling the world, marketing Indigenous experiences in BC with Indigenous Tourism of BC. It was soon after this experience that I was asked, “What is next?” Reflecting on my experiences and who I was, I concluded that I enjoy sharing my knowledge with others. Also, acknowledging the privilege I have being an Indigenous person, I felt that education would be the right place for me.

Can you share a few highlights about your program? 

During my time in the Bachelor of Education program, I was asked to speak at education conferences about my research, which focused on Indigenous education and culture. I was able to speak about my lived experiences and research to my peers, educators, administration, Indigenous leaders and government. I was nominated and awarded, by my peers, for the Maxwell Cameron Award for excellence and outstanding work in the education program. Heading into my master’s program, I was awarded the BC Graduate Scholarship for my planned research in Indigenous education, culture and curriculum.

What are some of the supports at VIU that have really helped you and why? 

I have been a part of the 'su'luqw'a' Community Cousins Indigenous mentorship program. During my time as a Cousin, I have been able to learn my Haislakala language, support faculty and staff, support Indigenous students and the community, and run the Thuy’she’num Tu Smun’eem summer mentorship camp for Indigenous youth. My involvement in this program has allowed me to further my growing relationship with my cultural identity in a safe and inclusive environment. I have built strong relationships with the University and the community that, to this day, supports me as I build my confidence and my passion for self-inquiry.

The Faculty of Education has played an important role in supporting me during my educational journey as well. The faculty and staff have always made themselves available to support my needs as a student and as an Indigenous person. They have provided many opportunities for both my peers and me that pushed us to build on many skills.

How did you get involved with the Community Cousins? 

My first day at VIU was one of amazement. Not knowing anyone, I expected to just enjoy the company of me, myself and I. As I entered the doors of Sh’apthut, I walked through an arch of cedar branches. As I emerged on the other side, I was greeted by members of Services for Aboriginal Students and the Community Cousins. Their kindness and support provided me with the relief that I needed. A couple weeks later, they presented the Community Cousins program during one of my classes. Following that class, I applied.

What’s next for you? 

Over the next couple years, I want to gain experience and continue my passion of self-inquiry. In my last year of the Education program, I accepted a position in the Nanaimo Ladysmith School District and continue to teach. I also applied and was accepted into the Master of Education in Educational Leadership program. The focus of my master’s degree research is confidence. How can confidence, in current and future educators, be elevated when it comes to adding more Indigenous content into their classrooms and what does that look like?

How would you like to see the teaching profession change? 

I would like to see more access to resources and support for students. We have a commitment to put students at the center, and this is difficult to maintain when there is a shortage of resources and support that the students need. I would also encourage teachers to be vulnerable when bringing more Indigenous content into the classroom. Expand your community and reach out to your local Indigenous communities and Indigenous leaders in your district. Our mistakes provide us with learning opportunities that, in the end, benefit our students.

Do you have any advice for first-year Indigenous students on finding their way at VIU?

Vancouver Island University encourages everyone to be proud of who they are. They acknowledge that we are all at different points on our educational and cultural journeys.

First-year Indigenous students: be proud of who you are and what you have accomplished to make it to this point in your life. Do not be afraid to make the first step, because the faculty and staff will be with you for encouragement and support. I encourage you to reach out to the Community Cousins, even just to say hi. It is here that new relationships will be made, support will be given and you matter.

Read the original article here.