During his studies at the University of Lethbridge, Tyler Mitchell had to draw on his willpower and determination on more than one occasion. His persistence has paid off and that will be demonstrated for all to see during fall convocation ceremonies when he receives a Bachelor of Management with a major in First Nations’ Governance.
A member of the Cowessess First Nation in Saskatchewan, Mitchell was born and raised in Fort McMurray, a region rich with development and Indigenous culture. Although he spent summers attending powwows and family feasts, he grew up surrounded by the oil and gas industry and it fueled his desire to work in aboriginal and government relations like his older sister. He earned a Business Administration diploma and a certificate in Human Resources at Keyano College before coming to the U of L to complete a degree.
“I chose the U of L specifically for the First Nations’ Governance program,” he says. “I really like the idea of a management degree where traditional knowledge and cultural values are taught at the same time as things like finance, accounting and economics.”
At the core of Mitchell’s desire to learn aboriginal governance is the belief that Indigenous communities will prosper more through economic and resource development, strategic partnerships, and social and environmental responsibility.
“I knew from a young age that finding ways to positively bring the two sides together was what I wanted to do as a career,” says Mitchell. “As an Aboriginal person, I have a vested interest in the inclusion of Aboriginal communities in resource development through proper consultation, ensuring equal opportunity in procurement, reclamation and treat right protections. My cultural values, traditional knowledge, experience in the industry and formal education has given me a unique foundation to further build a successful career.”
When he arrived in Lethbridge, he knew what he wanted to study but didn’t know anyone and, being Saulteaux and Cree, he wasn’t sure what to expect in Blackfoot territory.
“The community in and around the school is excellent. It’s full of very friendly people and very smart students who also like to have fun. They were very welcoming to someone from far away and I found it invaluable to learn about the local culture,” he says.
When the Fort McMurray wildfire broke out on May 3, 2016, Mitchell was on day two of his job working in aboriginal relations for the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo. He soon moved into emergency management, assisting evacuees and organizing help where needed. His parents were unable to return to their home and spent a year living in Edmonton while their house was fixed. Although he didn’t know it at the time, the experience, along with jobs he held at Syncrude and Suncor, helped him land his current contract position as an aboriginal analyst in emergency management with Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain Expansion Project.
Mitchell’s resolve was tested by personal adversity again during the December break, just before he was to start his final semester. He lost a loved one and suffered an injury in a vehicle collision.
“My last semester was a tough one for me but I didn’t give up. My advice to other students is, no matter what they’re going through or what kind of adversity they might be facing, to not just give up but talk to somebody,” he says. “Talk to a professor because everyone at this University is very understanding. Never be afraid or too proud to ask for help.”
In addition to his sister, Lana Hill, whom he calls his best friend and biggest mentor, Mitchell feels he couldn’t have persevered without support from his family.
“My mom and dad raised me to be confident in myself and to always work hard to achieve my goals and dreams,” he says. “They showed me what a strong work ethic was all about, but even more so, the importance of kindness.”
Mitchell also has high praise for his instructors for offering support when he needed it most.
“In the future, when I look at my degree it’s going to remind me that if I got through that, then I can get through anything,” he says. “Two people I want to thank specifically, both for helping me go through personal things as well as being great overall professors, would be Don McIntyre and Lois Frank.”
Now based in Calgary, Mitchell is working towards his vision of building a better future for Indigenous people.
“I am a firm believer that there needs to be more of an Indigenous voice in boardrooms of corporations,” he says. “At the end of the day, I want to make sure my people are benefitting from development and that things are fair and beneficial to both sides. I want nothing more than to close socio-economic gaps, lower Aboriginal unemployment rates and increase our educational rates.”
In the future, Mitchell has his sights set on completing a master’s degree in public policy.