These boots were made for graduating

Jun 9th, 2015

Janet Harron

These boots were made for graduating

Among the hundreds of arts students that crossed the stage at the St. John's Arts and Culture Centre at the end of May, Nina Darleen Rumbolt-Pye stood out. Maybe it was her status as a mature student and her two grandchildren in the audience. Or it could very well have been her footware.

In a sea of stilettos, the political science graduate’s ceremonial sealskin boots made a strong statement.

“Leading up to convocation, I wavered about whether or not I had the nerve to wear them," said Ms. Rumbolt-Pye. "Then the provincial budget came down and knowing that the cut to Memorial could affect foreign and graduate students strengthened my resolve. It was the diversity and uniqueness of the students at Memorial that had helped me feel so much at home, so I wanted my boots to serve as a symbol of the unique heritage of every CFA — and older person — that enters the doors of Memorial. In the end it is our own students who will suffer from not having the experience to learn alongside them.”

For Ms. Rumbolt-Pye, the boots that she crafted herself represent both her own Inuit culture and the atmosphere at Memorial.

“You can be from Bangladesh or Nigeria or from out around the bay, you can be 17 or 70 but whatever you are … you "belong" and are all working toward a common goal.”

Made of sealskin (“an animal that fed and clothed us but because of political interference has become a disgrace for us on the international scene,” she says), rabbit fur (symbolizing facing fears and overcoming them) and the flag of Labrador, the boots are the latest in a life of political acts for Ms. Rumbolt-Pye.

In 1982 she entered the then-Sir Wilfred Grenfell College and intended to go on to law school. After a semester of French immersion at the Université Laval in Quebec, a change in her program to a BA/B.Ed. and the birth of her two children resulted in a move back to Labrador before she could finish her degree.

“I tried to continue my studies through distance, but back in the early '90s, communications were not very sophisticated so I gave up trying.”

Instead, Ms. Rumbolt-Pye turned her attention to grassroots action and spent a decade as mayor of the community of Mary’s Harbour on Labrador's South Coast, following in the footsteps of current Liberal MP Yvonne Jones. She then spent several years as director of what is now known as NunatuKavut, including committee work administering educational funds for Aboriginal students.

“My own stint at education cost me quite a lot financially and it was nice to be able to be a part of something that would lessen the load for others,” said Ms. Rumbolt-Pye.

In the fall of 2014 both Ms. Rumbolt-Pye, who is currently employed by Canada Post, and her daughter Whitney enrolled at Memorial to continue their education. Whitney achieved her B.Sc. in 2009; for the past academic year, Ms. Rumbolt-Pye and her three relatives lived together in St. John's — a group consisting of a grandmother, mother and two grandsons.

“I usually came to campus with Whitney and the boys at 8 a.m. and got the last bus back at 11 p.m. If she needed to go to campus on nights or weekends I would stay with the kids … or if one of the children were sick and had to stay home we would work our classes around them and take turns staying home. It was hectic — but also invigorating knowing you were accomplishing something.”

Being accomplished is something the newly minted bachelor of arts degree holder, bootmaker extraordinaire, grandmother, former mayor and Aboriginal advocate is familiar with.