Dakota Norris will be receiving an award for community engagement at this year’s Indigenous Student Achievement Awards. (Photo: Carey Shaw)

Edwards student attributes success to his communities’ support

Dakota Norris feels like he belongs anywhere he goes.

Norris is a member in many communities. He was born in Inuvik, Northwest Territories where his parents live, he attends the University of Saskatchewan (USask) and he is a combat engineer in the Canadian Forces. During his time at USask he credits the leaders and friends in these communities for helping him find a sense of belonging.

The fourth-year Edwards School of Business student is completing a Bachelor of Commerce, with honours research in northern Saskatchewan. Norris works as a JR Research Fellow exploring prospects between Asia and Canadian Indigenous people.     

Norris will be receiving an award for community engagement at this year’s Indigenous Student Achievement Awards (ISAA) on Feb. 7. Indigenous students from across USask will be honoured at a ceremony to recognize their academic excellence, leadership, research endeavours or community engagement.

The ISAA is part of Indigenous Achievement Week (IAW) which celebrates the successes and contributions of Métis, First Nations and Inuit students, staff and faculty. The festivities include a public art project, speakers and celebrations in various locations across campus.

We asked Norris a few questions about his time at USask and what motivates him.

Why did you choose Edwards School of Business?

I chose Edwards because I was unsure what I wanted to do with my future, but I knew that the skills they teach are very practical and could support me with whatever decision I made. Whether you are going to work in the business world, government, non-profit, military or do your own thing, understanding how organizations work and what is required for projects to succeed will help you. As it turns out, I made the right choice because I am still unsure what my future holds but having a commerce degree certainly helped with everything I am involved in and all the jobs I am applying for.

What are you learning about the prospects between Asian and Canadian Indigenous people?

I am learning that it is an exciting time to be Indigenous, especially as a youth. Everything I am reading is showing that there is a high level of interest in building our relations and mutually supporting each other, particularly in business and trade. It’s inspiring to see that despite political differences or news headlines, Indigenous and most other people in these nations would happily cooperate and work hard to ensure we develop together. There is a lot of work to do, the students of today can make a large positive difference for Indigenous nations around the world with an entrepreneurial attitude and a global mindset.

How has your experience as a combat engineer in the Canadian Forces had an impact on your life and your education?

The impact on my life and education is hard to capture because it is so broad. I am a naturally quiet person and struggle being in the spotlight, but I feel my experience in the military allows me to speak up, take initiative, and lead despite that. The military puts you into mentally and physically uncomfortable situations, and it never gets easier, but you develop an ability to continue working and doing the things you’re supposed to do even when you’re uncomfortable. For example, studying even when you don’t want to. Uncertainty is a large and constant factor in university, like not knowing what material to study, what class to prioritize, or what direction to take a project. In the military, you live with uncertainty all the time and are forced to make decisions under uncertainty. This experience helps me not get overwhelmed and make decisions quickly when dealing with the uncertainty of university. The military reserve is designed for university students. Working evenings, weekends, and summers, in addition to tuition reimbursements, helped me financially get through university. They are very understanding, taking time off to focus on school is not looked down on and I would say it’s easier with the military than in any other job I have had. Lastly, the military is a small community. The close social connections that I have developed helped me get through university. My parents moved back up north when I was in Grade 12, I have no family in the city, and I see them very infrequently. Despite this I have never felt alone or unsupported, it is almost like having a second family.

What advice would you give to a first-year Indigenous student?

No matter who you are or what your background is, there is a good chance that you will struggle for the first little bit, or for the whole thing. Over time you will find what works for you, and it will get easier. Experiment with how many classes you can take, how many hours you can work, how much of a social life to have, etc. Try to be involved in at least one new thing each year. It will help you gain skills, experiences and friends that you won’t get in the classroom. Also, the less you feel like taking a break or exercising, the more likely it is you need to.

What plans do you have for the future?

I am planning on working in operations or research roles that support a better future for humanity. I don’t know exactly what path I will take, I am currently working in operations and research roles and enjoy them both. In the meantime, I will continue applying for jobs and master’s programs and will likely take whichever opportunity has the greatest potential for impact.

Has there been someone in your life who has inspired you to get to where you are today?

There have been many people. My high school coaches, military leaders, my parents and professors, all showed me that I can be successful and live a good life no matter what my life situation is. Many of these leaders went out of their way to encourage me and give me opportunities, which helped me feel hopeful and set the bar high for myself. I think the biggest inspiration for me is just seeing so many people who continue to do what is right and strive to live a good life and work hard every day, no matter what difficulty or setbacks they have.

This year’s theme of the Indigenous Achievement Week is Powerful Voices. If there is one thing you can use your voice for in this moment what would it be for?

I would like to reiterate, as the Indigenous Student Council (ISC) says, “You Belong Here”. I still remember the first day I had in school after I moved down south from my home in the Northwest Territories, and the last thing I felt was like I belonged. Ever since then, in school, in sports, in the military and in university, for the first few months every time I moved or started something new, I felt like I didn’t belong. I didn’t think about it much, but the feeling was always there. The president of the ISC recently shared a post on Facebook with the “You Belong Here” message, and I instantly felt like that was such an important message to share. It’s easy to feel alienated in a new environment, and I think that is a common feeling for Indigenous people that isn’t talked about a lot. What helped me get past this feeling, and today I would say I feel like I belong anywhere I go, is the great leaders and friends who I met in all these areas. If you’re willing to put yourself out there and stick it out, you will find that you actually do belong wherever you want to belong. Whether it is university, a new sport, a new job, or anything else, you belong there just as much as anybody else, and you can become a part of that environment if you choose to.

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