Métis mother of six thriving in grad school program
By Sam Laskaris
Amber Balan was already making a difference in the world.
But Balan, a 42-year-old Métis woman from Winnipeg, felt she could be doing even more.
That’s why Balan, who had graduated with a nursing degree from the University of Manitoba back in 2012, decided to head back into the classroom.
Balan is now in her final year of studies at the University of Winnipeg in the Master’s in Development Practice (MDP): Indigenous Development program.
“Grad school was always something I wanted to do,” Balan said.
Though several other universities offer the MDP program, Winnipeg is the only post-secondary school that has its program focus on how Indigenous knowledge and experience can shape a sustainable path for development, rooted in culture and identity.
Balan had worked several years as a nurse at a Winnipeg inner-city urgent care facility. So why the decision to leave her position and return to school?
“One of the main drivers was when I was working as a nurse I noticed a lot of racism and a lot of the policies were not conducive to Indigenous people and marginalized people,” she said. “It just seemed like a broken system.”
Balan believes her current program will better equip her to assist Indigenous people. But she is not quite sure what type of position she will seek after August of 2023, when she has fulfilled all of her degree requirements.
“As long as it relates to Indigenous health or programming and services,” she said. “I don’t know where it will be. It seems it is still unravelling.”
But she’s not worried about her future career path.
“I feel wherever the Creator needs I’ll be placed,” she said.
Balan is thriving in her current program. In fact, she is one of six individuals from across Canada this year to receive a $3,000 National Indigenous Economic Education Foundation (NIEEF) scholarship.
NIEEF is the charitable arm of Cando, an organization that promotes economic development in Indigenous communities across the country.
“It alleviates a lot of my financial position,” Balan said of her scholarship money.
Balan is no stranger to finding ways to make things work. She is a full-time university student now as well as a single mother of six children (three girls and three boys).
Balan has a 20-year-old son and two other children who are teens, aged 16 and 14. She also has an 11-year-old, a three-year-old and an infant who is one.
“Juggling is a good way to put it,” Balan said of her hectic family and academic life. “What helps is that I have a great daycare at the university.”
Balan’s two youngest children attend the daycare while she goes to her classes.
Needless to say, Balan is loving her current program.
“It seems that it has brought out the best in me,” she said. “I feel really determined and I feel excited about the content. It’s easy to work at it when things are so interesting. The content is so super interesting.”