When Margo Vermillion left Fort Chipewyan in the mid-1990s to pursue an education, she dreamed of one day returning to her community to share the lessons she learned with younger generations.
What she did not expect was that 17 years later she would come full circle as the new chair of Keyano College’s Fort Chipewyan campus.
“I always wanted to come back with the gifts that I learned out there, to come back home and pass on my learning to the community,” she said. “But 17 years ago, you would never have known that I would come back and be chair of the campus.”
Vermillion, now 55, said she began her educational journey late in life.
“I wasn’t young when I decided I needed to do something with my life, I was an adult already,” she said. “But age doesn’t matter. If you believe in yourself, you can do anything in the world. I always say education is never-ending.”
With the support of family members and her band, Mikisew Cree First Nation, Vermillion was able to overcome the short-term challenges posed by getting a post-secondary education away from home.
“I understand fully what students in the community have to go through because I’ve been there,” she said. “I had to learn how to cook Kraft Dinner 23 different ways, I know what it’s like to have not much money, to be the poor student. But I also want to pass on that it’s only for a short while. At the end of it you can become successful, you can come back and help the community, whether it’s to be a nurse to work with young moms, or anything else.”
After achieving her masters in social work, Vermillion stayed with Keyano College in Fort McMurray for 12 years, as a counsellor, facilitator and community engagement coordinator working with Aboriginal communities.
She said she hopes the new campus facility in Fort Chipewyan will bring more people like her closer to realizing their dreams through education.
“As long as we have the doors open and project out to the community that they’re more than welcome to come, we’ll work towards making things happen,” she said. “But we will need to join in unity in the community to make sure it happens. There’s so much positives that can happen if we work together.”