Almost half of Canadian aboriginal people are city dwellers, and a new study released to the CBC by the Environics Institute suggests many have no plans to return to their home reserve. Despite facing negative stereotypes, financial challenges, and significant tensions with the criminal justice system, the city is where these First Nations, Metis and Inuit populations believe they can fulfill their goals of obtaining an education, raising a family, and finding a satisfying career.

Continue reading Michael Dick's memoir

Believe it or not, it was the desire to get a leather jacket that pushed me to go to university. On September 1, 1998, I boarded a plane to attend Acadia University in Wolfville, Nova Scotia, outside of Halifax.

Making the choice of where to go was a hard one. Lakehead was the first choice, but I wanted adventure. I wanted to experience life outside of northern Ontario. I wanted a challenge.

I got it.

The first day, I was nervous. Everything was so new to me, and I had no idea what I was going to miss at home, or of course, how hard university was going to be. Being an Aboriginal who attends university brings extra pressure to succeed. There were only two of us that freshman year, my cousin Chester and me. Over the next four years, Chester and I clung to each other for support. We were both determined not to be the two "Indians" that failed. We didn’t want be another statistic.

When we were homesick , we would meet at meal hall or the student union building and trade stories about growing up in Thunder Bay. It was a struggle for both of us. Campus life was a lot different than Northern life. We missed our culture, we missed our parents, and we missed the pow-wows. My grades were never the best, but I worked hard.

Shooting this story for The National and talking to the students at Lakehead took me back to those memories. It also made me proud of the people I interviewed. They are risk-takers, they want to be role models, and they want to succeed. For every story they told me about the pain of pursuing higher education, there was pride. As one student told me, it would be too easy to just not try. "It’s four years of your life, and in the end, they can't take that piece of paper from you, or the doors that open with it."

I never got the leather jacket in the end. They stopped making them, and they went out of style. So I settled for a degree on my wall instead.

And so did Chester.