Chelsea Boucher (’13 BA, Political Science) doesn’t do anything halfway. That’s why, when she started learning about Canadian Aboriginal history as a student, she became eager to create a campus community for Aboriginal students at UAlberta. “I didn’t really embrace my culture until I took my first Native Studies course,” she says. “When I first started learning about the history, I was upset and disgusted, but then I thought that I could help to change things on campus.” A fellow student suggested she join the Aboriginal Student Council (ASC), a student group for Aboriginal students. Boucher did, but that was only the beginning – within a few years, she became the group’s president, organizing events for its members ranging from volleyball nights to cultural celebrations.
Boucher’s involvement on campus grew from there. She co-founded the Arts Aboriginal Student Council for aboriginal students in the Faculty of Arts, and sat on the Council of Aboriginal Initiatives, a 60-member committee with representatives from the university’s administration, Aboriginal student groups, multiple faculties, aboriginal communities and the City of Edmonton.
But Boucher did more than attend meetings and organize potlucks. She became passionate about her Métis heritage and the serious issues, from poverty to social justice, facing Aboriginal people across Canada. In 2012, UAlberta hosted the REDress Project created by Métis artist Jaime Black. Over the course of the installation, red dresses were hung around campus in a striking display to symbolize 600 missing or murdered Aboriginal women. Originally, the ASC space was simply supposed to serve as a housing location for the more than 400 dresses, but Boucher had to get involved. “Being a part of it, and actually helping to clean the dresses, paint signs and create awareness, it was really inspiring,” she says.
It’s obvious that Boucher has had an enormous impact on campus, where she’s been a role model to fellow students in her classes and at the ASC. But she’s had even more of an impact on the youth who haven’t yet made it into university. As a student, Boucher was also the senior Aboriginal campus ambassador, working with the Registrar’s Office to promote UAlberta to Aboriginal high school students and point them to resources like the Transition Year Program and Aboriginal Student Services Centre (ASSC). When Big Brothers Big Sisters approached the ASSC looking for volunteers willing to work with Aboriginal youth, Boucher and the Aboriginal Student Council organized a dinner for the youth, their parents and their big siblings to learn about Aboriginal culture and make dream catchers. Some ASC members went on to volunteer with the organization, something Boucher hopes to do in the coming year.
Boucher says that things have changed since she first came to UAlberta. “When I started, there was no Aboriginal honouring ceremony on stage when people graduated. There was no such thing as an Aboriginal Campus Ambassador.” And while she’s hesitant to take any credit, Boucher has clearly played a tremendous role in that shift.