Dear Laurentian University and the Faculty of Indigenous Relations,
Today I write you in hopes that you will consider my past and previous work history, along with related human service work experience with Indigenous peoples over the past nine years in my eligibility to challenge the third year field placement within the Indigenous Social Work Program at Laurentian University.
My journey begins in 2009, when I was hired as a Clinical Support Worker for Broken Arrow Residential Treatment Services in North Bay, Ontario. Though I do not necessarily agree with much of how this company operated or how it benefitted monetarily from the oppression of Indigenous peoples, the actual job of me working with young Indigenous peoples began here, and thus a sense of purpose to become a more informed, educated and empathetic person. Over the roughly ten months I worked for Broken Arrow, I was able to pick up various hours for respite working with numerous Indigenous youth placed in care in North Bay but from all over Canada. My full-time position with this company had me working as a Clinical Support Worker with a 13 year old Innu youth, originally from Sheshatshiu Innu First Nation in Newfoundland and Labrador. I was tasked with taking this young man (who I found out later from him that he was not told he would be taken from his family and flown several provinces over into care) to school and helping direct him to positive engagement and interaction in the school setting. It was a very difficult transition for this young man to take on so early in his life, with someone such as myself so new to a position. Eventually he was removed from school and I was tasked to spend my days with him in the community, build rapport with him and encouraging small obtainable goals and skills.
My time ended working directly with this young man after an incident occurred while I was driving a vehicle and was struck in the face by this young man. Now I tell you this with his consent and also to reach my next part of the story. A couple of years after this happened, this same young man reached out to me on social media and apologized for his actions and asked for forgiveness, to which I was willing to accept. What was most impactful and meaningful though is that he began to talk about his feelings and how it felt to be moved so far away from home, his concerns with family, friends, and other social issues. He started to tell me that he often would have thoughts of taking his own life. He would talk of how he wished he had listened to me while I was trying to guide him through school and through life and how meaningful he felt our relationship was; how he was grateful for the extra time I spent with him after my shifts were over where we would play road hockey and how I would never let him win. While this was all amazing to hear, what he didn’t know is the positive effect he was having on me directly; teaching me about not just his struggles but his family and people as well. It felt really good to know that I could be a good influence on someone’s life just by showing up and being myself, though it also felt as though I let him down because he was still in a rough spot and I felt I had given up on him, I had burned out. It is now 2018, and I continue to talk to this young man who is in his 20’s; we have created a great friendship and he will always message me for help while he continues to try and do the best he can to move forward. I mentioned earlier beginning to have a sense of purpose; while it started here it did not necessarily come to fruition or my consciousness until 2011, a year after I decided to move 30 hours from home and family to Thompson, Manitoba, where I knew nobody.
In 2010 I made the decision that I needed a fresh and new beginning, and began to apply for positions all over Canada. I had two serious offers from an organization in Alberta and a non-profit organization in Thompson, Manitoba.
In May of 2010 I moved to Thompson, Manitoba after accepting a position with Macdonald Youth Services as their Wilderness Supervisor. This title does not necessarily reflect the exact job in which I was to do over the next year. My job entailed taking at risk youth (of all genders) from group homes on outings, helping them complete community service hours and volunteer hours, engage in traditional and cultural events and ceremonies, and teach life and work skills in preparing the youth in transitioning to adulthood, where these skills would be applied. Moving to Thompson was an enormous culture shock, coming from the small and quiet, predominantly Caucasian town of Powassan, Ontario to this small mining community in northern Manitoba that is populated and surrounded by many people of varying Indigenous backgrounds as well as other backgrounds and is repeatedly ranked as one of the most violent cities in Canada per capita each year by Maclean’s magazine. At the time I was very uninformed and uneducated in regards to Indigenous peoples, culture, language and history, but was introduced to many positive and negative moments over this year in working with primarily Indigenous youth. I experienced both the creation of wonderful and lifelong relationships with some of these youth whom I found commonality with in being away from our families, along with the pain and heartache of losing one of my boys whom I worked with to murder. All of this gave me the beginning of my informal education and journey to find my own purpose in life through a re-examination of myself as a human being, through this grief and loss, and finding that purpose in viewing the world through the eyes of a seven year Indigenous girl, my ray of sunshine amidst all of the sadness.
I continued in the position of Wilderness Supervisor with Macdonald Youth Services until November of 2011, when I accepted a position with the Health Authority here in Thompson, Manitoba as a Mental Health Clinician for the newly formed Mobile Crisis Services for Youth program. I was able to receive training in working with youth and identifying biological, psychological, and social factors contributing to the mental health and well-being of youth in our region. Over four years I was able to hone in on my crisis assessment skills, intervention skills, safety planning and client centred collaborative care and work with families, among many other skill sets for not only the mental health field but for the social work field as well.
At the same time in which I started this new position, I also met a seven year old Indigenous girl in care through a friend who was working as a respite worker for Macdonald Youth Services. I was immediately able to connect with this little girl and when her respite worker became a foster parent, I decided that I would like to become a respite worker and work with this girl. This little girl, until this very day has been my coping mechanism, has been a bright light to help me overcome grief, saved me from moving home, become one of my very best friends and helped me find my purpose in life: to help other youth and people be able to help and save themselves; I especially enjoyed and continue to enjoy working with Indigenous youth. I feel that learning more about the history and culture of Indigenous peoples, along with creating lasting and meaningful relationships and friendships with Indigenous people over the years has given me a great appreciation for the resilience I see in their young people growing up in a world where trauma has been passed forward through the generations. Along with working with this seven year old, I began to also work with her younger brother who was in the same foster home, and who was (at the time) nonverbal. Both brother and sister have been affected by concerns I will not disclose here, but it was and continues to be amazing to watch their special relationship and how they take care of one another. When the young boy was nonverbal, he would make noises and was learning sign language and his sister would always know what he wanted. Today, as I write this, this seven year old is now turning fifteen, and is unique, intelligent and becoming an incredible human being. The young boy is now ten, has the most amazing personality and is making up for lost time being nonverbal by literally never being quiet, and always asking a million questions which are often times impossible to answer. When I do not have foster children in my home, I continue to do respite with these kids, have them over at my house for weekends, or just hang out with them in my spare time, which I have very little of these days. Being able to spend time with them completely changes my mood and my outlook on life when I am around them. I hope that they have gotten as much out of their time with me as I have with them; they quite literally saved me when I needed it the most.
When I began working for Mobile Crisis Services for Youth, I also joined the Hope North Suicide Prevention Committee, which is comprised of many people in various helping careers throughout the city of Thompson and Northern region of Manitoba which organizes mental health initiatives and life promotion events within the community of Thompson. I continue to be a member of this committee to this day. Each year we put on a large event called “Hope Forum” which has a different theme each year. This year will be the tenth year in existence, and over the years we have been lucky to partner with Bell, Mental Health Commission of Canada, and various local organizations as well to bring amazing speakers and professionals to the north to offer training, stories of lived experiences and most importantly hope!
I continued working as a Mental Health Clinician until 2015, and met some amazing young people and their families along the way. I was able to further my learning throughout this time taking many courses related to my professional development which are listed on my resume for your viewing. Around this time, I was also able to apply to the long process of being grandfathered into the Manitoba Association of Social Workers, to which I am an active and practicing member today as well and have been for several years.
Late in 2015, I accepted a position with the Northern Health Authority as a Community Health Developer, and was able to work with many of the remote communities in the region in the creation of programming in their own communities and providing them with funding for these initiatives through a government grant program entitled “Healthy Together Now. I was able to fly into some of the more remote reservations and meet with people, engage in their programming, tradition, culture and ways of living of periods of time. Over this almost two years I was able to help fund programs for communities which would otherwise go without. I was able to travel to such places as Lac Brochet, Manitoba to engage in a youth traditional weekend camp, and to St. Theresa Point, MB to assist community workers in the creation of smaller initiatives in which they were looking for funding for. I was able to be shown around the communities, meet new interesting people and really get a sense for where many of the youth I had worked with in the past had come from and some of the obstacles in which they face in their home communities, given the lack of resources and the social determinants of health which were severely lacking in most communities. During my trip to St. Theresa, my good friend and I were able to get in contact with the father of the young man whom we worked with who had been murdered and were able to be picked up by this humble man via boat and brought to the community of Wasagamack First Nation. I had not been to this community since the passing of his son, and his father and his older brother were able to take us to the cemetery where years before I watched his family and friends dig his grave in the middle of winter, and where the headstone in which I was able to fundraise for with the help and support of the Northern communities now was erected.
In late 2015 and early into 2016, a suicide crisis was declared in Pimicikamak Cree Nation, also known as Cross Lake, MB where several young people had taken their own lives over a very short period of time. A team was assembled from the Northern Health Region by the Director and I was asked to be a part of the group given my work now in community development, and my experience working with youth, crisis and suicide. Following the initial work done in the community in supporting the people and youth, I was asked by my manager to continue to visit the community long-term, create relationships and determine if there was any programming that could collaboratively be put in place that would help the youth in the community work through this noted crisis of suicide and look towards the future, planning for the future and becoming leaders in and out of their communities. I was able to work directly with the Cross Lake Health Director, as well as with the Youth Chief and Council in supporting events, building relationships and collaborating on ideas that may benefit the young people of the community. A leadership training framework was proposed to the youth chief and council, and though it was never able to get going my time spent in Cross Lake was one of the most influential in my decision to return to the mental health field and working with youth in crisis as well as their families. I have a strong affinity for the community of Cross Lake and the people there. The people’s resilience is astounding and their graciousness in welcoming me into their community, into their events, cultures, traditions and lives was extremely humbling and meaningful.
Around the time I started working in Pimicikamak Cree Nation, I also found inspiration and started a blog entitled “My Hero Movement”. I write about people who have influenced my life in very positive ways, people I look up to, people who are doing good in the world; people who are my heroes, some of which I have mentioned briefly in this paper. I have been able to raise money for charities through this blog and my aspirations are to one day make My Hero Movement into a registered charity as well. In this same timeframe, I also began exploring the possibility of returning to school with the hopes of obtaining employment back in Northern Ontario, close to the region where I was born and raised in Powassan, Ontario. I decided on Laurentian University and your distance education program of Indigenous Social Work, as I believe it to be my purpose to work with Indigenous peoples and more specifically with Indigenous youth.
With my spirit reinvigorated, in 2017 I interviewed for and accepted a position as Recovery Support Navigator with the Northern Health Authority at their new facility which is named Hope North Recovery Centre for Youth. I currently oversee a six bed Crisis Stabilization Unit/ Youth Addictions Unit for youth 17 and under and work with youth and their families in determining risk for suicide, mental state and status, and engaging in planning, recommendations and referrals upon discharge from the unit. Clients are able to stay up to seven days on the unit, which allows workers as well as myself time to begin some of the work with our young peoples and their supports before referring them to longer term services necessary for their well-being.
As of today, I am also a full time licensed specialized treatment foster home and currently have a young man staying with me. I began to work as a foster parent in 2015 and have had several young men live in my home, from various backgrounds and communities in our north. Many of the young people I take in are living in group homes and need a better environment to have a better chance at success as they move into adulthood.
I am sure there are several experiences that I have missed that have unbelievably changed my life for the better throughout the past almost nine years. My goals are slightly different these days, with my father back home just retiring and my second niece or nephew on the way. I am looking to move back home and take care of my family. If there is one thing I have learned from Indigenous people from my time here in Northern Manitoba and especially from the youth here, it is that family always comes first, no matter what. I have heard the most horrific stories of grief, loss, neglect, abuse and trauma, and I must say the Indigenous peoples as a whole in their ability to forgive and be resilient and be true to their families is second to none. I admire many things about the Indigenous peoples that I have met, though none compare to their resilience and loyalty.
I am asking that I be granted ability to challenge my third year practicum because I feel I have the work experience and life experience to do so. I feel as though over the past nine years I have been put on a positive path and journey to find my purpose, and in finding my purpose I hope to inspire and help others to find theirs before giving up too soon, before they find purpose. I want to challenge this practicum as I believe I possess the skills and requirements to do so and wish to continue to help and serve others in Northern Ontario as soon as possible with the attainment of this degree, which is a symbol of my dedication to serving Indigenous people in our country and moving towards a future based on forgiveness, empathy, reconciliation, opportunity, access, equality and equity for all peoples across all nations represented here.
If you require letters of reference and/or recommendation from my references or others, I would be more than happy to provide you with these as well.