Nov. 16, 2023
Class of 2023: Embracing her cultural past leads Piikani artist to an inspiring future
To find her future, Karli Crowshoe found herself exploring the past, studying the beautifully intricate and colourful art of her Blackfoot ancestors.
Re-learning the beadworking skill of generations past was just a step on the journey of self-discovery that has taken the Piikani artist and entrepreneur to UCalgary’s fall convocation, and on Nov. 16, the 33-year-old single mother will receive her Master of Management degree.
“I taught myself how to bead probably 20 years ago when I made my first outfit, because I wanted to dance powwow, and nobody in my family knew how, so I decided to teach myself,” says Crowshoe.
“I would go back to archive photos of beadwork that my grandparents had, that their grandparents made for them, and I would look at pictures of Blackfoot women and their families, to see what they looked like. I taught myself the basics and fine tuned it over a couple of decades.”
Wants to inspire Indigenous students
Crowshoe’s matter-of-fact resolve echoes with confidence, especially when measured through her many achievements: Master’s grad, business owner, financial business adviser, artist, dancer, ceremonialist, volunteer, and perhaps most challenging of all, mom to two boys, aged eight and two.
She has plans to expand her beading artwork business, called The Chief’s Daughter, and will eventually return to the Haskayne School of Business to pursue her PhD.
Surely, just more evidence of someone without an ounce of self-doubt.
But Crowshoe says that’s not the case at all. And because she hopes to inspire other young Indigenous people to follow her path into university, she wants them to know how difficult it can be.
“I had an identity crisis in university, because growing up traditionally, we are taught to do things and not ask questions out of respect,” recalls Crowshoe.
“When you are in university, you are taught to be a critical thinker and how to ask the right questions, and how to argue theory. I started to question my own identity and why things were done the way they are done, and that was terrifying for me. To be pushed in an environment that was nothing like how I was raised caused cultural confusion for myself.”
Art a salvation of self
Crowshoe struggled, but the healing started when she turned to her art.
“The way I reconnected to myself was creating, and I made sure every time I created something I was either back home with my grandparents, or in a space where I was feeling safe. It forced me to go back to where I am as a Blackfoot woman,” she says.
Feeling like an imposter is a challenge many Indigenous scholars must overcome, says Crowshoe.
“It felt like statistically I shouldn’t be taking up this space because I’m Indigenous and a single mom, but what kept me going was culture and tradition,” she explains.
“I had everything against me that kept me going. Just to show up in a space where I was the minority was intimidating and extremely hard, and without that traditional foundation, and being brought up the way I was, I wouldn’t have been confident in who I was as a Blackfoot woman, and to take that space.”
Understanding how other Indigenous learners feel is vital, says Crowshoe: “Sharing my story is really important, to let them see Indigenous people in spaces that are traditional not for them. And your sense of identity is so important to your success.”
Crowshoe was raised by her grandparents, two familiar faces to the UCalgary community.
Elders Dr. Reg Crowshoe, Hon. LLD’01, and Rose Crowshoe are members of UCalgary’s Elders Circle of Advisers and have provided their knowledge and assistance to the university, leading ceremonies, instructing students on traditional knowledge and advising UCalgary in the creation of its Indigenous Strategy, ii' taa'poh'to'p.
Crowshoe’s gratitude to her grandparents is clear, but she says university is a vital step for the next generation.
“I really think that we’re in a time that is crucial for Indigenous youth to seek higher education, and going to university and getting a degree is super important, because we need to provide for our families in a way our grandparents and parents weren’t always able to,” says Crowshoe.
“There was a time not too far in the past where our grandparents weren’t allowed to leave the reserve, or get loans, and it’s an amazing time now because we can do it for ourselves.”
Read more inspiring stories about the accomplishments and journeys of the Class of 2023.
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