A Quick Study with Chris Cardinal

This ongoing series is aimed at getting to know what motivates and inspires UBC students about their learning — inside and outside the classroom.

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Chris Cardinal

On intellectual awareness, positive change, being a husband, a father, and a Cree First Nations male, and picking up a guitar.

Meet Chris Cardinal, First Nations and Indigenous Studies, Faculty of Arts.


Why UBC?

CC: I’ll start off by saying I never thought it was in the stars for me to be attending UBC. However, at different points in my life, whether it was being part of an all Native graduation in ’94, performing with a band a few years after that, or having my wedding reception in the House of Learning in 2011, I found for some reason I kept on coming back to UBC.

Over the years I’ve walked through all the doors of that amazingly beautiful building, with exception to the east door in the main hall area. As a mature transfer student from Langara College, besides being informed of UBC’s history, classes and resources, I’ve also been told of the House of Learning’s graduation ceremonies, and where graduate students enter the building.

Chris Cardinal

I knew besides hearing of UBC’s prestige, I could see myself walking through the honorable entrance of Sty-Wet-Tan hall. Now that I am a full time student at UBC, I see that entrance as a reality, and I am prepared to do just that with my wife, whom has also made UBC her choice of study.


What are you studying and why?

CC: I am currently in my third year of the FNIS (First Nations and Indigenous Studies) Program, and I chose it to explore issues and inform myself of matters concerning Aboriginal Peoples.

As a Cree First Nations male, I recognize through my life experience, the barriers and challenges we Aboriginal people face on a daily basis.

Chris Cardinal

Indigenous Peoples have a story that needs and wants to be shared. We have to be at the front of this movement as vocal leaders, writers, historians etc. to correct and positively influence the narrative of who we are, why we are here, where we come from, and most importantly, where we are going. I want to use my education at UBC to expand intellectual awareness, network with positive people, and be a part of positive change for Aboriginal peoples everywhere.


You had a career as a construction foreman before coming back to school. Tell us about the journey of becoming a student after years of work experience.

CC: When I had an opportunity to return to school, I took it. I didn’t know what to expect, what the requirements were, or where I would end up. Everywhere I turned, I was intimidated by seeing young students whom I thought at the time were the minds of rocket scientists, doctors, lawyers, engineers etc. However, once I settled into class, I realized everyone I met had a common feeling of being nervous…some more than others. I found my confidence through my life and work experience, and I continue building on and drawing from that experience while learning new things. How liberating! Currently, I am still moving forward, learning something new everyday, meeting great people, living a positive life and having fun while working towards an education that will one day serve a worthy purpose in the future.


What is one thing you’d like to share with new students who have transferred to UBC?

CC: There are actually a couple things to share.

First off, it’s ok to be nervous in your educational pursuits. I believe if someone is too comfortable, their effort falls short of doing their best work. Nervousness can be a tool used to gauge one’s awareness of what is happening around them. It keeps you on your toes and alert of what must be done. Time management is the key.

Secondly, be committed to do what it takes to have what you want. Embrace the challenge of education with reverence, and do your work the best way you know how…there’s no shame in that. The workload maybe heavy at times, but remember you’re working towards something you want to do, and sometimes we have to step outside of our comfort zones and dig deep to make a rite of passage for ourselves to reach the moment of realization. If you can do that, one day you’ll not only wake up realizing you’re capable of handling the duties and deeds you’ve studied for…I also believe you’ll wake up one day embracing the work you love.


What has surprised you about studying at UBC?

CC: The size of the campus was the first surprise. As a result, on the second day of my first semester at UBC, I bought a bike. However, I found a strange thing about commuting by bike around campus. People seem to walk into your path while riding, and get out of the way when you walk your bike.

The second surprise was learning the thorough specifics and use of academic language being taught in my classes. Some content became food for thought, and other material made me remember my purpose of being back at school. In a way, it was like the movie, The Matrix. Well, rather than take the blue pill, I chose the red one. Nothing was the same for me after that because I chose to move past the point of no return in my studies and never looked back. Of course I wrestled with the knowledge from time to time, but I’ve allowed it to become a part of my reality. With likeminded peers and helpful instructors there to assist in my education at UBC, I am a better student today because of their input and feedback.


What inspires you these days?

Chris Cardinal

CC: Before school, I am a father of two beautiful girls. They inspire me to do my best for them, because they deserve the best I can provide. I love their laughter and their simple way of finding happiness or something positive in almost anything they see in their young worlds. I too, get to grow with them as well, and I sometimes laugh with them as we’re all caught up in the moment of spending good quality time together and making beautiful memories along the way.

I also love music. I always have these sounds in my head that make me want to pick up a guitar. Sometimes words can’t express how I feel…I need to hear it and play it. So, when I can, I get a little recording done of random compositions. Sometimes it is a maddening process trying to perfect sound. Who knows, one day, hopefully, I can record my own solo album. I haven’t written that possibility off yet. But…if I had to make a soundtrack of my life to this point, 5 songs stand out so far:

1. Sometimes by Sound of Guns
2. Take A Picture by Filter
3. Where The Streets Have No Name by U2
4. Estranged by Guns N’ Roses
5. Madness by Muse

I’m also a dancer. I dance in the men’s traditional style at pow-wows. The people there inspire me to tell my story through dance. It’s not easy, but I’ve been practicing this almost every summer for over 10 years doing my best to be one with the drum, and I’m happy to say I’m still learning.

Last but not least the great dynamic group of people I’ve met along my path of education. They’ve given me different, open-ended perspectives on how to look at the world and the social issues within it I wouldn’t have otherwise known.


What are you excited about doing this year?

CC: I will be one step closer to reaching my degree in the FNIS program while meeting more great people along the way! Travel is always fun during the warmer months with the family…something to look forward to for sure. I also have an opportunity to learn my Cree language in which I’m grateful for. I always dreamed of having a conversation with my elders in our language. Through my language I believe I will learn a traditional world view I never knew before…and it will stay a part of me for years to come.

Chris Cardinal