Thompson Rivers University

Far beyond numbers: Indigenous Mentor calculates the formula for success

  Posted on: April 12, 2018

As he approaches the completion of his master’s in Environmental Economics and Management, Ed Blakeborough reflected on his harrowing journey to stand out as being among the top 1% of mathematicians. A Kamloops resident since childhood,  Ed’s band is the Leq’á:mel First Nation, which is a part of Stó:lō Nation in Deroche, BC.

Now 51, Ed started university in 2012, as soon as his youngest child finished high school. The father of six, their ages ranging from early twenties to mid-thirties, had lost access to his children ten years earlier when their mother took them to a reserve in Regina. That devastating loss drove Ed down some “wrong routes,” leading to homelessness and an influx of addiction and in 2003.  “I was buried under layers of helplessness; this was a time when I was in my worst shape. My drug habit developed. I entered school as an attempt to break the cycle of addiction but couldn’t complete the year.”

“I was discouraged and frustrated. I found myself without a home. I was always roaming, always on the move. The stress, anxiety, the angst was relentless.”

Eventually, through the support of a friend who took him in, Ed was able to reach stable ground. “I’ll never wind up there again. I will never go back to that place. I’ve put myself in terrible places. My choices brought me there. But, if I’d never been there, I might not have made it here.”

After pausing a moment, Ed continued, “Sometimes it feels so far long ago, and yet it feels like yesterday. It’s good to remember once in a while.”

His children eventually returned to him, and he shared his story with them. “They have absorbed the lessons of my experience. How else are children to learn from mistakes, without having to make them themselves?”

As an Indigenous Mentor at Cplul’kw’ten, one of the greatest joys is connecting with fellow students. “I keep an eye out for patterns. If a student is changing their habits, I’m happy to check in, and provide insights and advice.”

Through his work at Cplul’kw’ten, Ed provides what he received in abundance: “The staff believed in me, which helped me believe in myself.”

Ed’s relationship with TRU goes back to 1987 when he first began his educational journey. “I drank a lot back then. I did not do well; I didn’t attend classes regularly and didn’t even finish the first year.”

“Also, as an Aboriginal thinker, I found it hard to relate to things that are black and white. I struggled with that duality; yet, there are no grey areas in math. I’ve learned that I’m great at recognizing patterns in myself and others. It goes far beyond numbers. We’re all mathematical beings.”

Ed reflected on the desire and the struggle with wanting to “buckle down and succeed,” but how the distractions within his life overshadowed his drive. Ed’s parents broke up when he was 13, and the ripple effect of that split was deeply impactful. As a result, it took Ed longer to finish high school than expected. “Encouragement was offered, but external forces kept me away,” Ed contemplated.

“I do regret the past—that’s what has caused me to change, but I forgive myself. I know I’ve changed my life. At times I feel embarrassed, but I’m starting to realize that what I’ve done is amazing.”

Joanne Brown, Supervisor of Aboriginal Student Development (currently on leave) said, “Ed’s one of the most humble people I know. He never flaunts his intelligence; he uses it to strengthen the community of learners.”

“We are very lucky to have Ed working in Cplul’kw’ten.  His mentorship reaches beyond the math problems. As a male role model, he is respectful and very grounded,” Joanne continued.

Recognized across campus as a mentor and math tutor, Ed is motivated to offer support whenever possible.  “I have to help, even if it’s to my detriment. My grade might go down, but if their grade and confidence goes up—it was worth it. I love seeing others succeed.”

Set to graduate in August, Ed wants to open an economic development-consulting firm.  Not much for public speaking, Ed prefers one-on-one interactions. “I’ve been asked to present. I’m happy to share my story, but I prefer to be quiet in the back,” he smiled.

When considering all the roadblocks Ed encountered on his journey, he remarked, “Poverty obstructs pathways to education.”

Without resources to overcome significant odds, individuals might not receive equitable opportunities to succeed. Instead, one might feel trapped in a labyrinth of obstacles that discourages and detracts from holistic prosperity. In addition, Ed noted that there are a series of internal impediments to overcome. “When hardship hits, we don’t know how to change, we don’t know where to go, and we’re embarrassed to have gotten there. However, try not to get stuck on all the ‘what ifs’. Critically assess your choices and consider the ripple effect.”

“It’s all about taking that first step—and then another and another and another. For me, following those good feelings is an avenue to success.”

Ed concluded, “Your story is a mirror in which others can see themselves. Through that reflection, they can see what’s possible and break the cycles that hold them back.”


Click the link for more information about Cplul’kw’ten

Click the link for more information about the Indigenous Mentor Program