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GH Psychology Graduate Stays True to Her Roots

Kristen Brant plans to give back to her community after pursuing graduate studies

Earlier this week, Kristen Brant proudly crossed the stage at the Toronto Congress Centre in traditional Indigenous regalia, created especially for her graduation day. Her gown, intricately hand-beaded with strawberries to symbolize her Indigenous heritage, was a testament to her cultural pride and personal achievement. Kristen's joy highlighted the significance of this moment as she officially graduated from the University of Guelph-Humber’s Psychology program. 

This stage, and this university are both a long way from the First Nations Mohawk reservation she grew up on, near Kingston, Ontario. 

“One of the fortunate things about growing up on the reserve was that my school was very culturally involved. We learned about our culture, we learned the traditional songs and dances, and got to learn the language and apply that to our studies,” she said, explaining that she continued to pursue learning the Mohawk language throughout high school. 

With her parents and four siblings still living on the reserve, Kristen said choosing to move so far from home for her post-secondary education was challenging for her, especially when it came to identifying with her culture in this unfamiliar space. 

Left: Kristen Brant and her family. Right: Indigenous Medallion gifted to graduating Indigenous students from Indigenous Education & Engagement (IE&E)

Recognizing the importance of maintaining her cultural practices, Kristen has continued to engage in traditional cleansing rituals such as smudging with sage.

“I've been trying to learn and understand and give myself leniency. I would listen to some of the songs and watch the dances and think about the meaning behind them and try to connect to that.”

Kristen said these practices have deepened her spiritual connection and reinforced her understanding of the relationship between mental, physical, and spiritual well-being.

“Learning more how to be in touch with myself spiritually, recognizing that my mental capacity is also connected to my physical abilities and recognizing how that’s interconnected and using that to help stabilize myself or give myself courage to work on one thing to help with the other,” she added.

Kristen said one of the main reasons she chose Guelph-Humber’s Psychology program was because of its connection to Indigenous history and practices.

“I knew that eventually I would want to work with Indigenous people and Indigenous youth, and I thought this would be the perfect program to bridge that gap between westernized healing and psychology when applying that to Indigenous practices,” she said. “Indigenous topics were implemented into almost all of my classes when they could be, and I had opportunities to work on many assignments based on Indigenous peoples.”

Kristen Brant standing in front of step and repeat with the University of Guelph-Humber logo and Convocation on it

With her father in the audience and her family watching the live stream from their home on the reserve, Kristen celebrated her achievements in a way that honoured both her culture and personal journey. As she crossed the stage, the strawberries beaded onto her gown symbolized more than just decoration; they held deep significance of her heritage, representing the Strawberry Moon Festival, a time of cultural celebration and renewal.

“Strawberries are a medicine to us – we use every single part of them, the plant, the flower, the strawberry itself. I think it’s so important to find something so small can be so beautiful and have so many purposes that we don’t know about or may not understand. Being able to learn about those things in my culture, I feel connected with that - especially since June is also my birth month.”

Kristen's dedication to her community and her culture drives her forward, ensuring her impact will be both profound and enduring. Kristen plans to gain valuable volunteer experience working with Indigenous youth, with the goal of pursuing a graduate degree in trauma psychology. Her vision is to return home and give back to her reserve, offering much-needed mental health support to Indigenous youth. 

June is National Indigenous History Month, and June 21st is National Indigenous Peoples Day.