She had spent most of her life working with her father in the fishing industry, earning her first paycheque at the age of eight. She worked for 30 years until a shoulder injury forced her off the job and left her facing an uncertain future. Heading back to school to prepare for a new career seemed like a daunting task.
“I loved school but I never thought I was good at it so I questioned going back,” she said. “Eventually, I got sick of thinking about it. I knew I had to do something and just did it. Walking through that door, I felt fearful and fearless at the same time.”
She found math and English less intimidating than she remembered, and when a friend phoned about new Kwak’wala language classes, she was eager to keep learning.
“I said sign me up – I totally wanted to learn to speak my ancestral language,” Walkus said.
She soon realized the classes were part of UVic’s Bachelor of Education in Indigenous Language Revitalization program, in partnership between the Kwakwaka’wakw First Nation and UVic.
The program consists of intensive, four-month courses, to be completed one at a time, that send instructors north on weekends while students learn from elders, known locally as wise ones, in the community during the week.
Having the opportunity to finish her education as an adult has turned out to be life-changing.
“I’m not the same person I was then,” Walkus said. “School is different now because I’m different. These are my choices. It means something to me now and it didn’t then.”
Now, Walkus is considering new educational avenues by pursuing a masters of speech pathology or audiology – education she can use to serve her community.
“These are resources Port Hardy definitely needs,” she said. “I want to bring it home to serve the North Island.”