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Finding Common Ground: Mount Allison Student Aims to Help Share Indigenous Voices

Lucas Waye knows what it’s like to be on the margins. After diving into Indigenous studies at Mount Allison University (MtA), he’s ready to serve others experiencing similar challenges.

Growing up in Sackville, New Brunswick, Waye feels like he was pre-destined to attend MtA. His mother, Susan, has also worked as the college’s accessibility services advisor for as long as he can remember.

Despite being in honors, Waye used to struggle with his grades. As a person with dysgraphia, he would often receive poor marks, even if his answers were correct—because his teachers could not read his handwriting. In high school, he learned more about MtA, including internship opportunities at the Meighen Centre, which offers services and accommodations to students with disabilities. The Johnson Scholarship Foundation has provided a matching challenge grant to support academic and work experiences for students with disabilities served by MtA’s Meighen Centre.

Now in his third year and excelling in classes, Waye will be the first student at Mount Allison to earn a double major in Indigenous studies and political science. Only one other student is pursuing Indigenous studies, an interdisciplinary program that must be pre-approved by the university. Waye credits his success to MtA’s accessibility services, small class sizes, and supportive environment.

“The university offers a whole slew of accommodations,” says Waye, who is also on the dean’s list. “I can take a test by talking to the computer, which will write [the answers] for me—so I don’t have to struggle or lose marks.”

Waye recalls the moment he realized his enrollment at MtA was meant to be, after completing a particular class project.

“I’m very meticulous with my work,” Waye explains. “I spent a ridiculous amount of time [on the project] for my Indigenous Research Ethics course. I went the extra mile.”

He adds that it was the hardest experience in college yet.

“When I finished the presentation, my professor looked at me and said it was amazing—and that she wanted to be invited to my dissertation,” he beams. “It felt good because I put a lot of work into it.”

Waye’s first encounter with Indigenous studies was in high school while taking a Mi’kmaq language class. But in his first year at Mount Allison, he declared a major in political science, unsure of his future. That same year, he took Introduction to Indigenous Studies, a class that turned out to be incredibly difficult.

“The way the language is, the words and how theyre broken down, you can feel the culture bleeding through the language,” says Waye. He also took an elective called Traditional Ecological Knowledge—but this time, something was different.

“For me, it quickly became about the content of the course. I wanted to learn more,” he says. “You learn about how Indigenous cultures and methodologies are integrated with nature and have this [holistic] approach. They hold so much knowledge that we are ignoring.”

Though Waye is not Indigenous, he feels a parallel connection to the community, identifying as transgender. Like many historically marginalized groups, Waye says he fears his voice—and rights—may someday disappear.

“The more I listen, learn, meet people, and read, the more connected to the cause I feel,” he says. “Hope rests in Indigenous voices and ideas.”

After graduating, Waye wants to pursue postgraduate research. He’d like to work with Indigenous women, revitalizing their traditional ecological knowledge in Canadian literature. Still, he says it’s not about his efforts—it’s about working hand-in-hand with the communities.

“Im there to listen,” he says. “Historically, women’s voices have been underrepresented or misrepresented, and [that] is a huge disservice. I want to preserve and document the knowledge with these communities.”

While reflecting on his time at MtA, Waye recalls the importance of applying oneself and making the most out of college.

“I cut out this degree for myself, but I had to find it,” he says. “University students [often] see it as a way to get a job and then make money, but [they] should see it as a way to grow a different set of skills. You have this opportunity to make a path for yourself. If you pursue what you want with intentionality, hard work, and critical thinking, you can succeed.”

Recognizing National Disability Employment Awareness Month

This article was written by I. King Jordan Jr., Disability Programs Consultant at Johnson Scholarship Foundation.

October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM). This year I had the opportunity to take part in an excellent Disability Mentoring Day event sponsored by Bender Consulting. Attendees included previous mentees, current mentors and numerous supporters.  There were activities that brought together students and employers for informal sessions about career opportunities and mentoring with volunteers at public and private places of employment. One statement at the beginning of the program resonated with me. Joyce Bender, founder and CEO of Bender Consulting said, “We don’t need a disability employment awareness month—we have plenty of awareness. What we need is a disability employment month!”

In one way, Joyce Bender was absolutely right. We certainly need more jobs for people with disabilities. In another way, we still do need more awareness. There are many barriers that must be overcome in order for people with disabilities to achieve jobs.

One of the most important barriers is the lack of knowledge of what disabled people can do. Too often the focus is on the disability—what a person cannot do, instead of what that person can do. Negative attitudes about people with disabilities and ignorance about their abilities too often prevent a genuine interview, much less a job offer.

In 1990 the Americans With Disabilities Act was passed promising greater access and employment for people with disabilities. It was an exciting time and many of us looked forward with anticipation to the positive changes that would result from this very important law. We have been seriously disappointed.  The employment rate of people with disabilities has barely ticked upward in more than 30 years since the passage of this landmark legislation.

The board and leadership of the Johnson Scholarship Foundation are very much aware of the statistics that show how adults with disabilities are much more likely to be unemployed than those without disabilities. The Foundation is committed to supporting programs that will help people with disabilities achieve educational success and ultimately employment. Some of the grantees supported by the Foundation serve children in school programs, from preschool through college. Some of the grantees serve young adults and help them acquire first jobs or serve young adults who are employed.

While we can see progress among our grantees, it is clear that there is much more work to do in order to lower the unemployment rate of people with disabilities and help support the ultimate goal of parity between the employment of people with and people without disabilities. It will be good to focus on national disability employment. Focus on jobs, not just awareness.


For more information about the Johnson Scholarship Foundation’s work in funding programs for people with disabilities, click here.