Third-year USask student Eileen Lennie-Koshman received a leadership award at this year's Indigenous Student Achievement Awards.
Third-year USask student Eileen Lennie-Koshman received a leadership award at this year's Indigenous Student Achievement Awards. (Photo: Nicole Denbow)

Grandparents inspire Indigenous Studies student at USask

Eileen Lennie-Koshman wants to empower Indigenous people to tell their stories.

Lennie-Koshman is a third-year University of Saskatchewan (USask) Indigenous Studies major and history minor. Although she now lives in Saskatoon, her maternal grandparents raised her in small-town Saskatchewan, and her ancestral roots are in Green Lake, Sask., along with the Red River Settlement in Manitoba.  

Lennie-Koshman dreams of using her education to help marginalized people. She hopes to enter a master’s program that will help her empower Indigenous communities and help them to find their voices.

Lennie-Koshman received an award for leadership at this year’s Indigenous Student Achievement Awards (ISAA), which took place on March 6. Indigenous students from across the University of Saskatchewan (USask) were 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.

We asked Lennie-Koshman a few questions about her time at USask and what motivates her.

Eileen Lennie-Koshman wants to empower Indigenous people to tell their stories. (Photo: Nicole Denbow)
Eileen Lennie-Koshman wants to empower Indigenous people to tell their stories. (Photo: Nicole Denbow)

Why did you choose to focus on Indigenous Studies and History?

I chose these fields of study because it is important that those who study these areas understand both the holistic and Western ways of writing, knowing and doing. I am here to assist my fellow historians and those that undertake Indigenous Studies to make way for the voices that have been missing for such a long time from the history books and academia generally – the voices of our Indigenous ancestors, as well as those of Indigenous scholars. I am hoping that one of those voices will be mine and I’ll be one of those scholars or experts. 

Is there someone in your life who inspired you to get where you are today? 

My maternal grandmother always told me “Do better for yourself than I could do for you.” My maternal grandparents were labourers, and they worked on family farms or for other landowners. I grew up in a time where Métis people had to hide in plain sight, denying who they were to be safe, access education, and get jobs. So now, here I am, finally finding my voice, and being able to proudly say, “Yes, I am Métis.” I was raised by my maternal grandparents, and I think of them every time I make progress; they are the reason I am who I am. I owe them everything.

What are your goals for the future? 
My goal is to take it one day at a time and get into grad school. It is my hope that the work I undertake will build bridges, and tell the stories of Indigenous populations, (or do work on their behalf). Either that or writing courses for future learners that aim to teach Indigenous concepts, ways of knowing, or history. I will be standing on the shoulders of those who have made inroads in these areas and relying on their input (at least partially) to guide me to where I am needed the most.

If you were to give a first-year undergraduate student advice about attending post-secondary school, what would you tell them?

Keep going. Don’t give up. Ask questions and talk to your profs. Just as you have a family in your hometown, find a family here at school. Find friends that will hold you up and support you. Find clubs or causes that speak to what is important to you, and extracurriculars that will help anchor you in a place this big. Lastly, apply for scholarships, bursaries and awards. USask wants to partner with you; they know university is a costly and time-consuming thing. We are all here for you. Really.

You are involved in a lot. You are a mother and a student, how do you balance everything?

Lists and planners. Each day I get up and check my calendar, and from there I make a list of what needs to be done, and where I need to be. I use every chunk of my time wisely, and believe it or not, I even take a “strike day” each week, where I do not do anything other than take time to do what I like; for example, spending time with my husband and son, and resting. Self-care is key in a packed schedule like mine.

You are receiving an award for Leadership. Is there someone in your life who inspires you or a leader you look up to? 

I look up to all the people throughout my life that have held me up and told me not to give up when it got hard. I look up to those who held me in their arms when I cried out of anger, frustration, and sadness. To all of those people, this award is for you. You all mean the world to me.

Can you tell me a little bit about how you would like to empower Indigenous communities to share their stories?

I am hoping that the work I do in a master’s program will enable me to speak with Elders and record their oral histories in a way that empowers them to tell the stories that are missing from the westernized (colonialized) version of history. Keeping stories alive, I believe, is one of the keys to reconciliation. 

How does your ancestry impact your work?

We are now living in a world where, slowly, one can be at peace with, and be proud of who they are. I am using the advantage I have to undertake some of the work that Indigenous peoples may have wanted to do in the past.

Is there anything else you’d like to share? 

 Anyone reading this who may have influence on jobs/job postings ... Feel free to keep me in mind for any job opportunities in the future, ha-ha.

Together, we will work towards Truth and Reconciliation. We invite you to join by supporting Indigenous achievement at USask.