Aboriginal Awareness Week Spotlight: ACAD Student Shelby Wolfe-Goulet


ACAD student Shelby Wolfe-Goulet is majoring in Print Media and entering her fourth year. She has been invited to the World Indigenous People’s Conference on Education 2017 (WIPCE) held in Toronto in July to present, The Self-Portrait: A Narrative Inquiry into the Experiences of an Indigenous Post-secondary Student. Over the past 30 years, WIPCE has grown to become a major international event and attracts the world’s foremost indigenous educators and panelists.

Tell us a little about your background.

I am originally from Edmonton and moved to Calgary to attend ACAD. My Mom is from Maskwacis, Alberta and my Dad is from Cumberland House, Saskatchewan. I didn’t grow up on reserve and facing the realities of that is an interesting place to be and also sometimes a sad place to be. My generation – myself, my siblings my cousins, we are the first ones in our family to not go to residential school.

What attracted you to ACAD?

There was just something about ACAD in terms of forward-thinking, being surrounded by creative people and being an institution that was just for the arts that really intrigued me. I’ve always loved the arts, provoking conversation and being comfortable with the uncomfortable. It had been a long time since I was a student and I was coming back to school at 23 years old. It gave me a different perspective on being a student and how I approached making art.

You are presenting at the prestigious WIPCE Conference in Toronto next month. How did you become part of this important event?

It happened before I accepted admission to ACAD. Dr. Trudy Cardinal, a professor at the University of Alberta and the primary research facilitator, was creating a project looking into the lives and experiences of indigenous students attending post-secondary. Dr. Cardinal and I worked together to create a working narrative following my first year attending ACAD. At this time last year and in the process of publishing our work, we decided to apply to present.

How do you feel about being invited to present alongside an international roster of academics and indigenous speakers?

WIPCE is a peak for me and this conference is such an amazing thing! Dr. Cardinal and I had the opportunity to present at Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences Conference held last year at the U of C. The remarks we got from our research was very uplifting and validating in a way. Dr. Cardinal is unable to attend WIPCE, so I’m the one bearing this flag for us. It will be interesting going into uncharted waters on my own.

Did ACAD help support you with this opportunity?

I am incredibly grateful to ACAD for the support and the generous scholarships I received. Without it, I would not be able to attend this conference.

So can you give some insight into your research on the indigenous post-secondary experience? What did you encounter that was positive?

I created many self-portraits to put myself in the foreground to stand up and talk about challenging issues that Indigenous people face in my first year. I encountered audiences that were open to talking about. I’m not coming from a place where I want to make people feel guilty. I am coming from a place where I want to educate, and talk about these issues and remove the stigma. In my first year a lot of students, and many of them were younger than me, were shocked. “What I learned in school was a lie?”, and my response, “Yes, it kind of was.”

On the flipside, what posed a challenge in the first year?

The challenge for me in my first year was finding other indigenous students. It wasn’t until my second year that I discovered there was an Indigenous Student club. I’ve also been confronted by negative stereotypes of people who don’t understand. I will not be reduced to a statistic. I am working on my degree, and I come from a background of educated people. I know where I am going and I know I am going to succeed. I think that’s the most remarkable thing about indigenous people living in contemporary society. We are not an artifact that belongs in a museum. We are a contemporary people; we are not in the past.

Do you have any thoughts on what ACAD can keep working on to positively impact the indigenous student experience?

With the opening of the Lodgepole Center, I feel like there has been a positive shift. The Center is going to continuously grow and evolve and we all have to be active members in that. It is incredibly important for our Indigenous and non-Indigenous students to have a safe place to gather. I also think it is a great step to have more Indigenous faculty members and classes.

Interview by Marion Garden, Director of Marketing + Communications at ACAD