Nfld. & Labrador·Point of View

Did I overcome obstacles to get my university degree? Darn right I did

I spoke another language, I was far away from home, I had two small children ... but I did it.

I was a single mother who spoke another language, but I earned the degree I wanted

Kanani Davis enrolled at Memorial University 20 years ago. With time and dedication, she earned the education degree she wanted. (Mark Cumby/CBC)

I first arrived in St. John's to attend Memorial University in the spring of 1998. I was 24 years old, a single mom with two beautiful children — ages three and five — and no academic education.

I embraced what city life had to offer and the beautiful scenery. I really enjoyed taking my children swimming, sightseeing or just seeing  movies on the big screen.

I left Sheshatshiu to better my life and my children's lives. I wanted an education so I could eventually support myself and my children. 

University was hard. Very hard. 

I was not book smart. I had never finished a book on my own. I had never written an assignment or an academic paper before. I had to work extra hard just to keep up.

I started a program called English as Second Language that spring semester.

At first I was not accepted into the program — and that was because I was not an international student. I knew I would need a lot of help with my reading and writing so I argued to get into the ESL program. Thankfully, I was accepted.

Discouraged, but not deterred

I did not grow up speaking English. My first language is Innu-aimun. Therefore I think in Innu.

It is very difficult and stressful when your first language is not English and you try to write academic papers in that language.

Kanani Davis is now the director of education for the Innu of Labrador. (Mark Cumby/CBC)

I would sit there for long periods of time before I could even put thoughts and words on paper. I would pass in my work to my professors and then receive them back, only to find a lot of red marks.

It was discouraging, that feeling of failure when you have worked so hard.

Did I continue?

Darn right, I did.   

It was hard living in the city as an Innu student and single mom. I had a tight schedule because I had children who also needed my attention. I would work on my school work during the day, and in between classes I'd run home to cook, bathe and help my children with their school work.

Sometimes in the evenings I'd have to drive my son to hockey and drag my daughter to cold arenas to watch her brother play.

One of the toughest times as a student with children was when one of us got sick. There was no one to call on. I just had to juggle what came at me and continue on with our lives.

I was so thankful my children were such loving and caring little souls. They were great helpers and truly powerful motivators. 

Excursions to Signal Hill

One of the best memories while living in St. John's was taking my kids out for evening drives in the city. When they were small and refused to go to sleep I would grab their blankets and pillows and we'd go for a drive to Signal Hill. 

We would park at the top of Signal Hill and watch the city lights. We loved it! We would get back in the vehicle, where I'd tell the kids, "Set up your blankets and pillows in the back," and soon they were fast asleep.

While studying at Memorial University, Kanani Davis was also raising her son Nikashantess and daughter Petshish. (Kanani Davis)

Not only was school and motherhood hard but living in the city was tough too.   

Even though I met and made good friends here in St. John's, I also experienced quite a bit of racism.

I was so naive to think everyone knew Innu and they liked Innu people. It was not until I started introducing myself and tell them where I was from that I realized people had such a bad image of us. 

I would mention the word "Labrador" or "Innu" and immediately people assumed I was a gas sniffer.

At that time, I really didn't say much. I didn't want to rock the boat.

I shrugged it off and moved on but that's not to say these comments didn't hurt. 

Kanani Davis stands near the education building at Memorial University's main campus in St. John's. (Mark Cumby/CBC)

One night I was the designated driver for a group of friends. I drove them to a pub and they introduced me to a friend they knew. I told this new girl where I was from and what I was doing in St. John's. 

She looked at me very weird and said, "What? You're a student here? Like … you? You go to MUN?"

I felt like smacking her but instead I just nodded my head and said "yes." 

I had something to prove

From that night on I swore to myself I would prove to people like her that I would achieve what I came here for and that is to leave St. John's with a bachelor of education degree.

Although it did take me 10 years — off and on —  I did eventually complete my B.Ed.

After two children and then having two more, I must say I was very proud of myself. I could finally say I was a university graduate.

I put my children through so much while living in the city, especially when I was the only parent. 

They saw my struggles as I saw theirs but in the end it made us stronger together.


Kanani Davis


Kanani Davis is a member of Sheshatshiu Innu Nation. She currently serves as the director of education for the Innu of Labrador. Her passions include writing, travel and her family.