The Graduate Spotlight features exceptional students who have had unique journeys through Laurentian University. We celebrate these students and their accomplishments!
Haudenosaunee Indigenous Social Work student Tanya Thomas-Elliott lives with her husband on Six Nations of the Grand River Territory. She also works in her own community. Tanya is of the Onondaga Nation and of the wolf clan. Having worked in the social work field for over fourteen years, Tanya is currently a Cultural Support Worker for Six Nations Polytechnic, a position that allows her to explore a different perspective within her profession.
Tanya will be receiving her degree with honours from Laurentian in June 2023, an achievement that means the world to her as she struggled with dyslexia throughout her life. “I was shocked when I received the certificate telling me I had an honours degree. I never received that in school before and it is a big accomplishment for me,” said Tanya.
As a mother of four children, one of which has dyslexia as well, Tanya strives to be a role model and show her children that anything is possible, even with a learning disability. “I have my own way of learning so it is good for my children to see that I can continue my education. If Mom can do it, then they can do it. I always tell them they never stop learning, no matter what they are doing.” Tanya’s grandpa used to tell her the same thing – that you never stop learning.
Education is something Tanya is very passionate about, as demonstrated by the plethora of post-secondary degrees she has obtained over the years. She completed her Bachelor of Contemporary Studies with a minor is Indigenous Studies in 2004 at Wilfrid Laurier University followed by her Bachelor of Education degree in 2007 at Brock University. Additionally, she obtained her Social Service Worker diploma in 2007 from Mohawk College.
The fully online option for the Indigenous Social Work program is what persuaded Tanya to attend Laurentian. “Choosing Laurentian was an easy choice because they offered all their Indigenous Social Work courses online. I work full time and I am a mom full time so I don’t have time to attend classes in person. I liked the fact that you can do it at home and on your own time,” said Tanya. She was also grateful to be able to complete the first year of her degree part-time before transitioning into a full-time student.
Tanya speaks very highly of the staff, faculty, and community at the university. “All of my professors were very supportive,” said Tanya. “I was surprised by one professor, Arlene Johnson. I had never met her in person but I had taken courses with her throughout my degree. She was able to describe me and I was shocked. It was so personal and she almost made me cry. I never heard anyone talk about me like that so passionately.”
Tanya was drawn to the Indigenous Social Work degree because she didn’t want a Western perspective from her degree. “I wanted something that is all Indigenous. In the program a lot of the teachings are from non-Haudenosaunee perspectives,” she said. Being able to include Haudenosaunee teachings and other personal interests in her assignments or papers is something Tanya appreciated within her degree. “I am glad I was able to share a part of my culture with my professors and they were able to understand it more,” said Tanya.
To fulfill her degree requirements, Tanya had to complete 400 hours of placement. She was pleased to be able to complete these hours in her position as a Cultural Support Worker for Six Nations Polytechnic when she first took on the new position. “It was a new job, a new position, so everything was new to me. It was a great learning experience for me to do my placement there,” said Tanya.
Looking into the future, Tanya is interested in pursuing a Master of Social Work degree. She will be changing positions in August 2023 and is looking forward to taking on work within the field at that time.
Undoubtedly, Tanya will continue to inspire her children, further her education, and make a difference in the Indigenous community through her role in social work.