“If you have a dream, follow it!” — MMBSW Grad Cathy Pictou Reflects on Journey to becoming a Social Worker in her Community

In October 2015, at 52 years young, Cathy Pictou, a first-year Mi’kmaq student from Eel River Bar First Nation, stood in the middle of St. Thomas University campus, arms raised, asking her Creator why she was there. 

“I cannot do this work. I don’t understand the material or the academic language. The other students are all in their twenties. How can I keep up or compete?” Pictou said she remembers thinking that day. 

“Just at that moment, a huge bald eagle flew over me and glided over campus. The voice that spoke to me said, ‘Cathy you are not here for the younger students, you are here for yourself. Just think of all the hard work you had to do to get here to STU along with the move. You can do this,’” she said. 

Flash forward six years, and Pictou, now a graduate of the Mi’kmaq Maliseet Bachelor of Social Work (MMBSW), has been working in her community as a full-time Social Worker with Eel River Bar First Nation’s Child and Family Services for over a year. 

“I am a daughter, sister, auntie, a wife, a godmother, a mother and a grandmother. I was one week shy of age 57 when I received my social work degree. Never let anyone tell you that you’re too old to live your dream. As long as you have courage, determination, and support, you got this.” 

A Moment of Realization 

Pictou started her first office job at age 40, working for the addictions program in her community. During that time, she said she got good at helping community members struggling with drug and alcohol abuse, doing research, attending workshops and consulting with other addictions workers. She provided supportive energy and an ear to listen to others’ problems—but did not have the authority to help them further. 

“These people felt safe with me; they knew my worth. I understood where they were coming from with their inner pain,” she said. 

It was at this point Pictou said she realized there was more for her to do. 

After taking a psychology and social work course, Pictou decided to get her social work degree. A quick Google search brought her to the Mi’kmaq Maliseet Bachelor of Social Work program at St. Thomas University. 

Pictou applied to STU for her Bachelor of Arts as the first person in her family to go to university. She said the Wabanaki Student Centre at STU, as well as Elder-in-Residence, Miigam’agan, other Indigenous students, and the community of St. Mary’s became her support system. 

STU’s MMBSW: A Unique Program 

Pictou then moved on to the MMBSW program at STU. 

“STU has a wonderful environment, great atmosphere, and it sits on First Nations territory. I admire that there are so many different ethnic groups and cultures, and STU supports them all. Taking this program gave me a better sense of who I am as a First Nations woman. It helped me to understand our history of our ancestors, where we came from, and where I need to be in life,” Pictou said. 

The three-year program is designed to allow students to continue to live and work in their communities, commuting to Fredericton for a week of intensive learning each month, and then having the rest of the time to complete assignments at home, be with their families, and work. 

Pictou appreciated that the program is only for First Nations people, making it a unique learning environment.

“You’re learning from others of different age groups, different nations, and different provinces. I learned a lot, not only about other First Nations communities but from other provinces of what kind of resources they have for their communities and where to reach out for them.” 

Pictou credits the support and understanding of her professors for encouraging her to stick with the program when things got hard. 

“I am forever grateful for some of the profs that stayed back and spoke to me after class. They helped me to understand the material and guided me to come back the following month.” 

Pictou graduated in 2020 with a cohort of 27. 

A Passion for Social Work 

When she started her path in social work, Pictou wasn’t sure exactly what kind of work she’d end up doing. She said she’s grateful to be where she is today. 

Pictou works with guardianship, preparing new foster parents for their role and doing home assessments. She said she enjoys how collaborative and supportive her team is, and that she gets to learn something new each day. 

While Pictou said her story shows age is not a factor in pursuing any dream, her advice for others is to act sooner rather than later. She said her next goal is to eventually get her master's degree. 

“If you have a dream, follow it, and find that courage to step forward. Face your fears, they are not as bad as we think. Know your worth and live your life.”