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Graduate completes four-year walk across stage

Myrna Gabriel graduated from McGill University this fall with a certificate in Indigenous Business Management. (Courtesy Myrna Gabriel)

After four years, Kanehsata’kehró:non Myrna Gabriel was finally able to walk across the stage at Place des Arts to receive her diploma in Indigenous Business Management from McGill University.

“It’s like the baby I laboured for,” said Gabriel. “What makes it special is how it became part of my life. I kiddingly laugh and say this is the end result that shaped my life.”

The 30-credit program is intended for Indigenous students, and introduces the knowledge and competencies essential to starting, promoting, and managing a socially relevant business or organization by focusing on numerical and financial literacy, as well as fundamental communication and management skills.

Gabriel took the program, on a part-time basis taking one class per semester, while working full time and raising two children including a 14-year-old with autism.

“During the summer semesters, I took two, but I had to do it like that because I couldn’t manage with work,” said Gabriel.

“It was hard, with any study focus you pass up invitations to outings because assignments are due, or skip family functions because you have chapters to read before the next class. You sacrifice a lot and the reward is now with that stage walk.”

She was interested in taking the program based on her former job as an employment counselor at the Kanesatake Human Resources Office.

“We didn’t have an economic development person or program running. Part of my program offered self-employment assistance to people wanting to start businesses and while I was listening to our members pitch some pretty cool business ideas I wanted to help,” she said.

“For me to help them I needed to help myself become knowledgeable in it so I found the program and jumped on it.”

Gabriel decided to take a change in career paths before she completed the program.

“I felt that glass ceiling was hitting me hard and as comfortable as my job was, it was time as it no longer stimulated me,” said Gabriel. “It felt like I was wearing that old oversized baggy sweatshirt that was full of holes.”

For just over a year, she’s been working as an Aboriginal liaison officer for Correctional Services Canada at Reception Center helping First Nations inmates adjust to penitentiary life, and helping them with their long-term plans.

“I’m kind of pulling out my employment counseling skills, in a different way with them. I’m helping them look at opportunities,” she said.

“All my skills and experiences I’ve developed over the 12 years that I’ve spent employed in Kanesatake are all being used in this one role. Between counseling, coordinating, planning, managing, researching and developing, communicating, listening, networking, emergency response, interventions and advocating. My days are fast paced and I’m always sharp.”

Gabriel said even though she made a career change, her recent education at McGill won’t go unused.

“If not now, I’ll invest in my future and look long term. Maybe I’m going to hate this job, maybe I’ll hate it after a couple of years and would have regrets if I didn’t stick it out. That’s what was my driving force, knowing that long-term, this is something that I can aspire to,” said Gabriel.

She also hopes to be able to use her newfound skills to help guide potential entrepreneurs build their business plans.

“I’ve had people reach out to me. I don’t have a business of my own to be a mentor to somebody, but if I can just guide them and offer the information of what I know and what I’ve seen what works,” said Gabriel.

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