Indigenous

How this Oneida student who is deaf overcame online school obstacles to win a university scholarship

Kastoslote Elijah, a teen from Oneida Nation of the Thames near London, Ont., was born deaf, so online learning during the pandemic came with unique challenges. However, she remained committed to her goal of getting into post-secondary school. 

Kastoslote Elijah plans to study art and Indigenous languages at Hawaii university

Kastoslote Elijah has been accepted to the University of Hawai'i at Manoa. She plans to study art and Indigenous languages. (Submitted by Amy Ireland)

Kastoslote Elijah, a teen from Oneida Nation of the Thames near London, Ont., was born deaf, so online learning during the pandemic came with unique challenges. However, she remained committed to her goal of getting into post-secondary school. 

Elijah, 17, is graduating high school this year on the honour roll for the fourth straight year, was accepted to the University of Hawai'i at Manoa, and was awarded an international merit scholarship from the university. 

"I just really tried to be positive, and took all the support that I could get," Elijah said through a sign language interpreter. 

She said, besides the fact there was an unreliable Internet connection in her home community, remote learning was difficult and frustrating because the interpreter's subtitles were not always an accurate translation of the class. 

"So there was a lot of stress and tension being online. But I just really dug in and kept going," she said. 

Cade Sanders, a guidance counsellor at H.B Beal Secondary School, said because Elijah's first language is American Sign Language, or ASL, she had to learn English syntax, sentence structure and grammar.

He said she's also taken extra English, science and math classes to get her onto the university pathway. 

"It's like a steeplechase race watching her hurdle over these. I think that's the one thing that really stands out," said Sanders.

Elijah maintained her grades, and met all of the admission requirements for the university, which she said required taking extra English courses which she struggled to excel with. 

An example of Kastoslote's digital artwork. (Submitted by Amy Ireland)

Elijah describes herself as an On^yota'a:ka artist, painter and illustrator, focused on Haudenosaunee art and style. She is learning digital art skills, and has done commissions of tattoo designs, custom portraits, and more.

Amy Flannery was Elijah's teacher for three years in high school.

"I had her for Grade 9 art. With the Indigenous art, she created beautiful pieces of work. She was a joy to have in the classroom, and a pleasure to teach," said Flannery. 

Flannery said Elijah has been a role model for younger Indigenous students in a mentorship program at school as well.

Elijah said she chose the University of Hawai'i at Manoa because she wanted to try something new, and said it offers opportunities that she could not find here in Canada.

Kastoslote Elijah, left, and her mom, Amy Ireland, right. (CBC News)

Elijah said her mom, Amy Ireland, who is also deaf, has always encouraged her to persevere. 

"The best advice she's given me would have to be just to try my best and keep going," she said. 

"She always has believed in me; she has never wavered in that."

Ireland said going to university in Honolulu will be a life-changing experience for her daughter, and she's looking forward to sharing the journey with her. 

"I am so happy for her, and watching her get through everything has not been easy, and getting to be there with her has been an incredible experience for me," Ireland said. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Renée Lilley

Reporter, CBC Indigenous

Renée Lilley is a reporter for CBC Indigenous based in Winnipeg. She is a recipient of the CJF-CBC Indigenous Journalism Fellowship for 2022 and is a recent University of Winnipeg grad with a BA in rhetoric and communications. She has reported for radio and online news in her hometown of Portage la Prairie, Man. She is also a proud Métis mama of four girls.

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