Supporting her journey forward

The road to her master's degree has not been straightforward. UNBC graduate student Deena Latta is grateful for the support she's received from family and mentors in her journey.

June 20, 2023
Woman wearing black hoodie with white lettering poses for photo with cityscape in the background.
UNBC graduate student Deena Latta is pursuing her Master of Education in Counselling while working at Poundmaker's Lodge Treatment Centres near Edmonton, Alberta.

Two conversations in her first year of recovery convinced Deena Latta to pursue her post-secondary education at UNBC.

The first occurred when she spoke with her birth father in Prince George and he suggested she return to school. The second less-direct message came from an Elder when Latta was serving coffee at a local restaurant. “She asked me what I was doing, and I responded, ‘Pouring coffee for you,’” Latta explains. “She said, ‘No, you are meant for more than this.’” 

The conversations informed Latta’s decision to apply to UNBC and begin her studies. As a single parent to two sons, Deena-Sharlene Robyn Eustache-Latta received her Bachelor of Social Work degree from UNBC in 2016.

Latta’s full name is a combination of her legal and birth names. “My birth Mom named me Sharlene Eustache before I was taken from her and six weeks later, my adoptive Mom named me Deena Robyn Latta.

“All these names have meaning to me because I needed all my parents to walk the journey I am on,” says Latta, who is Secwépemc and Cree. Born in Kamloops and raised in Prince George, Latta was part of the Sixties Scoop. “I am so grateful I found my birth family, as well as the life lived with my adoptive family.”

Latta says she connected with people at UNBC who supported her journey forward in so many ways. “I met people who helped me connect with both Secwépemc and Cree ways of life and received emotional and mental support from the greatest counsellor and other mentors.”

Now as a Kokum to two granddaughters, Latta is working on her thesis for a Master of Education in Counselling, while working as an Addiction Counsellor at Poundmaker’s Lodge Treatment Centres, an Indigenous addiction treatment centre near Edmonton.

Latta recently received UNBC’s Spike Kendy Bursary to support her continued education. Spike (Michael) Kendy worked closed with the people of the Secwépmec and Tsilhoqot’in Nations when he worked for the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development Canada during the 1970s. “This award was set up to further reconciliation between my family and those who carry the strength of Indigenous ways of knowing forward through education,” says Spike’s daughter, Nan Kendy. “It’s my family’s way of giving back.”

She adds, “It is my hope that we may all learn to celebrate the perseverance of the Indigenous spirit.”

The bursary was the first financial award Latta had applied for during her studies and, after receiving word she had won, she wrote to the Kendy family to say kukstemc (thank you in Secwépemc). “In all honesty, I have never felt deserving enough to think that I deserve these opportunities,” she wrote. “Students are hard workers and we are grateful for all that we receive – this student sure is.”

As she works to complete her master’s degree, Latta says, “I never thought that I would go this far in my life and am truly grateful for my children, granbabies, parents, and loved ones for being there for me. I need to thank my Creator for believing in me and blessing me with these opportunities.

“My journey isn't finished with UNBC and I give thanks for everything and everybody it’s brought into my life,” she adds. “I encourage everyone to embrace their dreams and passion and want to share that anything is possible if you put your heart, mind, and body to it.”