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Wilfrid Laurier University Leaf
October 17, 2017
Canadian Excellence


Inspiring Aboriginal Alumni

Are you an Alumni of Laurier? Would you like information or involvement in future Office of Aboriginal Initatives events, news, and more?

We would like to recognize you on our website. Please provide with a bio and contact information by filling out this form.

Kandice Baptiste, 2011 BA History


Kandice Baptiste, a Mohawk from the Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory in southeastern Ontario, always knew she wanted to do something different. Not only did Baptiste become the first person in her family to attend and graduate from university, but in her new role at Laurier she is now inspiring other Aboriginal students to go to university.

Recruited to play varsity basketball, Baptiste came to the university’s Waterloo campus in 2006. It was a difficult first year. Like many students, she struggled to adjust to her program. She was also very homesick.

“At the time, there was nothing at Laurier for Aboriginal students,” said Baptiste. “I felt like I was the only one. I thought, ‘I’ll just have to figure it out by myself and adjust how I can.’”
When she returned for second year, she chose to focus on basketball and school. Around Christmas time during her fourth year, Baptiste decided to finish out her basketball career and not pursue a fifth year of eligibility. She began looking for her next goal, and that’s when she began thinking about creating the Aboriginal Student Association (ASA), which was officially established in 2010.

“The goal of the ASA is to give Aboriginal students a chance to get together and offer each other support,” she said.

Baptiste also interned for Laurier Waterloo’s Aboriginal Student Services, helping to plan events such as the inaugural Aboriginal Awareness Week at the university’s Waterloo campus. Then she heard about a new position – Aboriginal Students Recruitment and Retention Officer for the Waterloo and Brantford campuses. She interviewed and got the job, starting just a few weeks after her last exams.

Today she travels across Ontario and Canada talking to Aboriginal high school students. She is also working on plans to begin hosting weekly summer camps for Aboriginal youth at Laurier. The teenagers would get to attend classes, labs and experience all of the resources on campus.

“My goal is to introduce Aboriginal students to the possibility of going to university,” said Baptiste. “Hopefully they will learn it’s not this big scary place.”

Tina Copenace, 2013 MSW, Aboriginal Field of Study

Tina Copenace is a member from Ochiichagwe’Babigo’Ining First Nation from the Kenora area. Presently, Tina works for the National Defense of Canada working with Inuit, Metis, and Aboriginal people in the regional program. She  completed  the I Master of Social Worker program in Aboriginal Field of Study with Wilfred Laurier University in June 2013.   Tina left her home and family to attend full time studies in Kitchener, Waterloo.  Tina faced many challenges coming from a small town to a large urban setting.  Tina stayed connected to community Elders and participated  in events held by Wilfrid Laurier Aboriginal Centre at Albert Street. 

Tina has applied to the Indigenous Ph.D. program in Trent University.

Tina has a background in Indigenous studies and has worked for various social services organizations in her career. She has served on various boards/committee;  Amikkowiish Housing, Child Find Canada, Thomas Aquinas High School Parent Council, Triple Play and many grassroots First Nation committees in Ontario. She is past President of Four Directions Toastmasters & past Area Governor for Toastmasters International Area 22.

Elizabeth Gray, 2011 MSW: Aboriginal Field of Study

Elizabeth Gray is a non-status, urban, Mi'kmaq woman who currently lives in Hamilton Ontario. She graduated from Laurier’s School of Social Work with a Master’s degree in the Aboriginal Field of Study in October of 2011. 

Elizabeth is currently serving as Operations and Special Projects Manager with the Aboriginal Education and Student Services team at Mohawk College. Her position includes a partnership agreement between Mohawk and Sheridan College and the development and implementation of Aboriginal Initiatives at Sheridan College rolling out for 2014.

For more than a decade, Elizabeth  has been publishing books on community organizing, anti-oppression and social work practice, in addition to working on the accreditation of retirement residences in Ontario. She recently co-edited The Dance of Wiindigo and Nanaboozhou: An Indigenous journey through hatred and violence by Madeleine Berglund and is one of ten individuals being profiled in a book on Advocacy and Social Change scheduled for publication by Oxford University Press in 2014. Elizabeth has raised one son to virtual adulthood and spends much of her free time camping and enjoying being on the land.

Her desire to enroll in Laurier’s part-time MSW-AFS program was for personal rather than professional reasons. She wanted the experience of education rooted in Indigenous pedagogy and to commit to deeper understanding of culture and ceremony. She particularly appreciated the reflective writing and honouring of relationship with the medicines that her Laurier elders and instructors encouraged and remains deeply grateful for the experience.  

Dr. Gus Hill, 2009 PhD Social Work

Gus Hill is an Anishnaabe Professor in the Aboriginal Field of Study in the Faculty of Social Work. Gus focuses on wellness-related research projects that are for, and by, indigenous people. Dr. Hill believes in research that places control, direction and ownership firmly in the hands of the knowledge-holders and indigenous communities.

"Over the past four decades, more and more Aboriginal people have reclaimed their cultural identities. Traditional healing often serves as the beginning of their journeys into cultural re-education, as well as holistic wellness. Since there is a lack of understanding of traditional healing and Indigenous people in mainstream Canadian culture, I strongly value that I work at an institution where I can teach, as well as conduct culturally congruent research, toward better understanding traditional healing." says Gus Hill.

George Kennedy, 2012 MA History (PhD Candidate, Western)

George Kennedy is of the Oneida Nation, Turtle clan. He is currently a PhD Candidate in History at Western. His past research interests included the Anishnabe/Haudenosaunee transition from allies of the Crown to that of wardship. George also examed Indigenous diplomacy as it relates to the “Dish with One Spoon” treaty, which derives from the earliest times of the “Great Peace” amongst the Haudenosaunee. He is a proud to have been entrusted with four of the Creator’s children and life partner Mushkode.

Kelly Laurila, 2010 MSW Aboriginal Field of Study

Click here to read an "Inspiring Lives" Wilfrid Laurier article on Kelly.

Dr. Lianne C. Leddy, 2011 PhD History

Dr. Lianne Leddy is a citizen of the Serpent River First Nation in Northern Ontario.  She attended Wilfrid Laurier University from 2001-2005 and earned a Combined Honours BA in English and History.  She attended the University of Western Ontario for her MA in History, and chose to continue her graduate studies at Laurier at the PhD level. 

Her dissertation, which she completed in 2011, examined the impacts of the uranium industry on the Serpent River First Nation and drew on oral history as well as archival sources.  Leddy is also interested in the community leadership roles of Indigenous women in the postwar period.  She is now an assistant professor in the Department of History at Memorial University and lives with her partner in Conception Bay South, Newfoundland.

Michael Low, 1995 BA Geography

Michael Low is a community member of Wikwemikong Unceded Indian Reserve with family roots in Northern Ontario. He is a lifelong entrepreneur whose current endeavour is Symbiotic Group Inc., a consulting company providing IT Consulting and Recruitment and Aboriginal Business Consulting services to clients across Canada. He is the Founder and President.  

Michael is passionate about entrepreneurship, about conceiving new ideas, and nurturing and growing companies in the business to business marketplace.  He formed Symbiotic Group to provide industry leading IT consulting services with an Aboriginal business perspective and focus. Michael is proud of his entrepreneurial achievements working with several young and growing organizations and his advocacy for the advancement of Aboriginal people.

Michael has an Honours Bachelor of Arts degree in Geography from Wilfrid Laurier University. He has also completed the Master’s Level in ‘The Strategic Coach’ a 5 year entrepreneurial coaching program designed for business owners.

Michael and his family live in Oakville. When not working on new ventures Michael loves to spend time with his wife and two young children. He can be found spending family time in the outdoors, playing hockey, enjoying multiple hobbies, playing music and reading.

Michael and his family are also active supporting several charity groups that have impacted their lives including McMaster Children’s Hospital, Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of Canada, Heart & Stroke Foundation, Wilfrid Laurier University, and the University of Guelph.

Cynthia-Anne Martin Pinnau, 2013 MSW Aboriginal Field of Study

Cynthia-Anne Martin Pinnau entered Laurier’s Part Time Master of Social Work, Aboriginal Field of Study program in spring of 2011 as she was intrigued by her Mi'kmaq heritage. She entered into the part time program so she could continue her work as a Police officer for Waterloo Regional Police Service.

Growing up in Mississauga she moved to Waterloo for her Undergrad at University of Waterloo graduating in 1999. She loved the City and decided to make Waterloo Region her home.

Cynthia was able to hold down a full time job, be on the Board of Directors for White Owl Native Ancestry in Kitchener, be with her husband, two young children, and attend cultural events including the Aboriginal Student Services (with her kids). She loves to drum, craft and be with fellow students. Laurier has been a great experience for her and she appreciates how much she learned about herself in the process. In her studies and her re-search at Laurier she has felt more connected to her culture and community. She has met many great friends who she will remain connected including classmates throughout Ontario. This program allowed her to feel accepted as she is and allowed her to grow Mentally and Physically but she feel she grew the most Emotionally and Spiritually.

Cynthia enjoys working with youth and families and understands how we are all connected through Mother Earth. She appreciates the lessons that were learned through the course and uses them for her own personal growth and reflection. Laurier challenged her in many satisfying ways and is so proud of her accomplishment and will be able to use the teachings in all parts of her life.

Gayle Myke, 2004 BA Contemporary Studies

Click here to read an "Inspiring Lives", Wilfrid Laurier article on Gayle

Dr. Sheri Longboat, 2013 PhD Geography

Sheri Longboat is a member of the Six Nations of the Grand River, and for much of her career she has worked with First Nations communities implementing GIS technology for community-based land and resource management. Sheri has also worked in Aboriginal post-secondary education, as a manager at Niagara College and a program coordinator at Six Nations Polytechnic.

While finding grass-roots work most fulfilling, she has also contributed at the national level and held a 10 year position on the Natural Resources Canada GeoConnections management board. Sheri previously completed her MA from Wilfrid Laurier University (’96), BEd from Brock University (’96) and, and honours BES from the University of Waterloo (’92).  In 2007, Sheri returned to Wilfrid Laurier University to pursue advanced studies to critically examine the water crisis faced by so many First Nations in Canada.

It is her belief that solutions for current social-ecological challenges require multi-disciplinary approaches and collaboration among shared responsibilities. Sheri’s PhD dissertation examined First Nations water security by investigating the interrelationships between First Nations and Western approaches to water, and the opportunities and barriers to collaborative governance. Her recommendations for more effective collaboration drew upon several scholarly areas including: water security and governance, integrated water resource management, indigenous approaches, collaboration, and institutional theory.

In 2013, Sheri received her Doctor of Philosophy in Geography.

Darren Thomas, 2013 MA Psychology (PhD Candidate, Laurier)

Darren Thomas 

Darren Thomas is a member of the Seneca Nation; he is a Bear Clan and he currently resides at the Grand River Territory of the Haudenosaunee. Darren currently is pursuing his PhD in community psychology and works part-time for Wilfrid Laurier University as the Indigenous Studies Liaison. His research has focused on First Nations community development, Indigenous research methodologies, suicide prevention and colonial trauma. He also has his own consulting firm and travels throughout North America delivering a motivational message to all people about trying to live up to their greatest expectations.

Darren specializes in working with First Nations peoples, inspiring them to be proud of their heritage and take a rightful place in modern society. Darren utilizes humour in all his work as he feels we desperately need to lighten up and begin to enjoy life. Darren is an Orator, Mentor, Actor, as well as a Certified Hypnotherapist and Stage Hypnotist. Darren has over twenty years experience working in radio, education, addiction and community development.

Dr. Paulette Tremblay, 1975 BA Sociology

First Nations, Inuit and Métis Teacher and Administrator 1975, BA (Sociology) Dr. Paulette C. Tremblay is a Mohawk of the Turtle Clan from Six Nations of the Grand River Territory in Southern Ontario. Deeply committed to the development of First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples, Tremblay’s leadership work has included roles as CEO of the National Aboriginal Health Organization (NAHO), Director of Education for the Assembly of First Nations, Senior Executive Officer for the Six Nations Council and National Liaison for the chiefs of Saskatchewan.

She has also been a professor at Six Nations Polytechnic Institute, Algonquin College, University of Ottawa, and Institute for Traditional Knowledge at Six Nations, as well as a high school teacher and counsellor in the Yukon. She has a long history of developing educational curricula, conducting research and engaging in government policy analysis, education and lobbying at local, provincial, national and international levels. In the private sector, she has acted as an education, evaluation and training consultant. Tremblay has been a selection committee member for the Prime Minister’s Awards for Teaching Excellence, Director of Education for the National Aboriginal Achievement Foundation and was appointed for three years to the Trillium Foundation.

In 2011, she was appointed co-Chair of McMaster University’s President’s Committee on Indigenous Studies. She was recognized as the 2010 Champion of Mental Health, Aboriginal Category, for her work with NAHO, in the area of providing suicide prevention resources. Tremblay just graduated from the Directors Education Program at Rotman School of Management and also completed certification requirements to receive the Institute of Corporate Directors, Director (ICD.D) designation. Other degrees: BEd, Dalhousie University MA, PhD, University of Ottawa

Allan Downey, 2014 PHD History

Allan Downey

Dr. Allan Downey is a Dakelh (Nak'azdli First Nation) author, historian, and educator. Currently he is an Academic Associate in Indigenous Studies at the McGill Institute for the Study Canada, McGill University, and an Adjunct Professor in the Department of History. Allan previously taught at Wilfrid Laurier University in both the Department of History and North American Studies Program and served as a Research Associate at the University of Waterloo in the Department of History.

His book, The Creator’s Game published by UBC Press, focuses on the history of lacrosse in Aboriginal communities from 1867-1990 to better understand Native-Newcomer relations and Aboriginal identity formation.

Allan Downey: Using lacrosse to teach, inspire and heal