When she began her educational journey in the Old Sun Anglican Boarding School – a residential school on the Siksika Nation Reserve east of Calgary in the 1950s – few could have anticipated that Vivian Ayoungman would go on to be a lifelong learner, academic, teacher and mentor.
Policy changes in the federal Department of Indian Affairs encouraged Native integration in the 1960s and Vivian left her school on the reserve, transferring into the public school system in Calgary.
Vivian went on to study at the then newly minted University of Calgary in 1966. Rooted in her Blackfoot culture and nurturing her passion for learning, in 1970 she earned a Bachelor of Education with a focus on second languages, becoming the first Indigenous person to graduate from the university.
An undergraduate degree wouldn’t be enough for Vivian. After three years of teaching at the Ermineskin Morley Indian School and a return to the University of Calgary where she helped to establish the Indian Student University Program, she traveled south to earn a Master of Education and then a Doctor of Education at Arizona State University over the course of the 1980s and early Nineties.
A relentless champion for Indigenous learning, Vivian’s decades-long passion for education and teaching has now come full circle. The residential school of her youth is now the Old Sun Community College, where she has undertaken what she considers to be the most important and successful work of her career so far – developing and teaching a Blackfoot Studies program that has proven to be both popular with and inspiring for students at the school.
She says working on the program and engaging with Elders has deepened her connection to and understanding of her culture.
“I have really grown as a Siksika person. I have finally learned what the essence of Blackfoot life is,” Vivian says. “My whole life turned in the direction of what I am supposed to be as a Siksika woman.”