University of Western Ontario

Indigenous Services @UWO

The other day I was asked to write a testimonial for a pamphlet that was being created for my university: The University of Western Ontario but more specifically, for Indigenous Services on campus.

I asked how many words and I knew that it wasn’t going to be very big. So, when I was told 60-70 words I wasn’t surprised. However, I knew that I had to write a post on Indigenous Services on Campus.

I have written about this sort of stuff before like in “I get everything for free!” or “Just because I am First Nations.” This stuff being a First Nations person and the misconception that the tools put in place to help us be successful are there just because we get it for free or in stereotypical thinking, that First Nations people get everything handed to them. We don’t. Tools, programs, etc are put in place for certain groups, not just First Nations people, because they help individuals be successful. Just like First Nations or Indigenous services/centers are put in place at post-secondary institutions are put in place to help FN students be successful.

I can’t say that I have been successful in school because it is entirely independent on my own personal drive and my own personal goals. That is part of it but not all. From elementary school to high school to college to university, there has always been someone on campus to be there to help me whether it be just one individual who came in on certain days or called in for special appointments or an entire centre dedicated to FN students. These centers and the individuals that work there are the places that help students to be successful.

At the Indigenous Services on campus on UWO, there are plenty of things that have helped to be successful in my first year. For instance, the Indigenous counsellors who I have used on more than one occasion. These Indigenous counsellors I am more than thankful for because a regular counsellor may not understand certain issues I am facing or may not be able to provide the help that I am looking for. For example, one day I went in to go talk specifically to the Indigenous counsellor. I didn’t have any classes that day, so I went in there to literally just to talk to that one person. After talking to this counsellor and building that relationship with her, I was able to feel comfortable enough to say that I needed different kind of help. The help that a non-Indigenous counsellor may not understand. I needed some cultural/traditional guidance. I need this type of guidance because I wanted that help. That help reminded me of the place that makes me feel most comfortable, most at ease, and most relaxed and that place is home and with family. A non-Indigenous counsellor would not be able to help me with the cultural/traditional guidance that I need. That day the Indigenous counsellor provided me with some great cultural guidance that I am able to remember to this day that helps me and just like another did they were able to provide me traditional teachings. So how did these visits help me to be successful? Well just like any other person that uses their own beliefs or values to help them get them through a hard time or through the day, these were the things that I knew I needed and that helped me to get through the rest of the day.

I think this is the major difference between the other centers/services that are set up to help students be successful.

There are other centers on campus that are set up to help students to be successful like Learning Skills Services, International and Exchange Student Centre, Writing Support Centre, Psychological Services, Students with Disabilities… all of which can be found on this website: Student Development Centre. These different services within this centre are there because they work for students and help students to be successful. Because even as the website reads,

The Student Development Centre is home to a variety of services specially designed to meet the needs of undergraduate and graduate students on campus. Our staff members are highly trained and experienced professionals who know what campus life is all about

Indigenous Services is there not because “Natives get everything for free” or “Natives get handouts,” it is there because it helps students to be successful…just like all the other services dedicated to different groups of students.

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#NativeAwesome

Please check out the LFpress.com article titled Western Med Grad Aims To Be a Native Role Model!

This an Aboriginal female, Samantha Boshart, doing amazing things and giving back to the community. In the best possible way ever!

This is just one example of Aboriginal women doing amazing things in the greater community…

Check out these posts on other Aboriginal women who I think are just as amazing:

  1. Lisa Charleyboy
  2. Lynzii Taibossigai
  3. Jess Yess

Residential School Children

This past weekend I was able to attend my university’s First Nations Student Association’s powwow. This powwow had a great turn out and I was very impressed. I was also able to meet a few people that I am interested in working with or at least volunteering with. At the powwow, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission had a booth set up and I was able to meet the person who works with the Children of Shingwauk Alumni Association. I was very interested in talking with this individual because I had the opportunity to volunteer at the Shingwauk Residential School Reunion. When I volunteered at this event, I had some amazing conversations with Residential school survivors and I also learned a few things from this group of people.

The one thing I learned was this: Keep smiling! When I remember this experience, and even though this group of people were brought together under not-so-great circumstances, they still smiled. I remember seeing them sitting together, eating together, laughing together, and most important still smiling together.

Another thing I learned about this experience is that many of the children who did attend the school and who did die at the school, never received proper burial. This kind of made me upset. As a volunteer, I had a tour of the old residential school which is now a university, Algoma University College. On this tour, we were brought to a secluded area behind the university. There was a trail that led up to this area and specifically into the area which we were going to. We were going to the graves of the priests and nuns. In other words, the graves that did not include the children who died at the school. These graves had big tombstones, fencing around the grave site… clear markers that graves existed there. We were told that many of the children who died at the school either died in the river trying to escape the school or died and were only buried in the front of the school. The front of the school was just a big green yard, with obviously no grave markings.

I talk about this experience because when I visited the Truth and Reconciliation Commission website, I saw an article that spoke about an Aboriginal youth, whose name is Charlie Hunter, that died while at a different residential school and his parents were not notified of their child’s burial. Additionally, Charlie’s burial happened outside Charlie’s home community–his parents could not give a proper burial and could not visit his burial site. As the article says,

For years, their family has unsuccessfully pressed the federal government to have Charlie’s body brought home so that they can visit his grave and talk with his spirit.

The burial of a body is a very sacred ceremony for Aboriginal people and it can be agreed upon for any group of people that funerals help with the grieving process. This process is an important part of healing for anyone, whether Aboriginal or not. If you would like to read the entire Toronto Star article, you can read the complete article HERE.

When reading this article, it made me upset with how the Indian Affairs Minister responded to this situation. Mr. John Duncan simply said in a letter,

He feels badly for them but cannot help…

Fortunately, another part of this story is that there is another couple, the Wilsons, amongst others. The Wilsons helped out Charlie’s parents by donating $5,000 to help bring Charlie Hunter home. A trust fund was also set up. The estimated cost to bring Charlie home is estimated to be at $21,500. Throughout the story, there are individuals who are touched by this story and who are willing to help bring Charlie home. This literally brought tears to my eyes. I thought, if only we could bring all children home to their parents.

My experiences at The University of Western Ontario

Note: Please keep in mind the nature of this blog…Experiences of an Aboriginal Female in Canadian Society. I write from my point of view, and I still realize that there are other groups that still face troubles. I do not make an effort to say that I have it worse off or that I deserve better treatment. I just write about my experiences.

First, my experiences at The University of Western Ontario have been great. I have been involved and wanting to be even more involved. I have met great people, both Aboriginal and Non-Aboriginal. I have met some great people who are/were on Social Science Students Council. I met some great friends in class. I also met some great people through volunteering at various events and with various committees around the school. These experiences and these people, along with the understanding and supportive professors, are what make my UWO experience enjoyable.

Second, below is an article that was sent to me by another student at UWO. This article made me sick to my stomach. This article reminded me of this one incident class. In this incident in class, we were talking about Human Rights and if we should be concerned about Human Rights or lack thereof in other countries, those outside of North America. This made my stomach turn because of what some of my peers were saying. I then raised my hand and I asked the class:

Why do we care about Human Rights issues/violations in other countries when we have Human Rights violations here in Canada? Like that of lack of clean water, or education not available to everyone.

I paid special attention to make sure this discussion in class did not go into the direction I was afraid it might go into: First Nations issues. I made sure that I never mentioned First Nations, Aboriginal, or Indians or any reference to this group. I did this because the issues that surround First Nations are complex. Nevertheless, the discussion went from Human Rights in Canada, to clean water, to First Nations. Someone responded to my question or concern with this statement:

….We should not be giving the Chiefs hand outs….

My stomach literally turned over in class. I wanted to respond but I knew if I were to respond, the “right” thing would not come out. I didn’t respond to that comment. What I did I wish I had said was this: That Chiefs of each First Nation don’t get the “money” directly. The money actually goes through layers of organizations before it ever reaches the citizens of Canada that actually need it: the members of First Nations (excluding Chief and councils).

I did not say that. I wish I did. Rather, I just say there in my seat, quiet, anxious, wanting to bolt. After class was let out, I cried. I didn’t know how to handle this. I was angry. If it weren’t for Indigenous Services and the people there that day, I don’t know what would have happened? A panic attack? I don’t know I can’t predict what would have or could have happened and I don’t think I want to now.

When I read this article that was forwarded to me, the same feelings went through me. These feelings existed because literally the same thing was being read, when it was said in class, but this was written AND published in the school newspaper. Here is the article:

UWO Gazette Article Dated November 2005UWO article. To see the direct link to this article click Here.

I know everyone has a right to their own opinion. I do not deny anyone’s opinion in any situation. However, it amazes me that some people who attend such a well-known university, can actually be thought of as “higher learners” when things like this are said. I know these statements are filled with ignorance, in other words lack of education. So what is the solution? I am not sure. I do know that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission suggests putting the REAL Canadian history in school curriculums.

I emphasize this: Not all Aboriginals choose to live and stay on reserve–if they do want to leave some of them don’t even have the resources to leave. Like I said before, the issues that surround First Nations people, are very complex.

But to read this article dated 2005, and to be in class in 2011, there seems to be no change in thought from two very different students. The only thing that alarms me is that, one opinion was actually published! That is what concerns me most.

It makes you wonder why and where people get the idea that Aboriginals get everything for free or that we have it better off, or that we can just get up and leave our reserves (reserves that were created in an effort to “get rid of the Native problem”).

Finally, here are some present statistics about the current state of Aboriginals in Canada:

  • 2010: Infant mortality rate amongst Canadians 5.3 live births per 1000 versus 19 live births per 1000 amongst Aboriginals
  • Number 1 cause of death of Aboriginals between ages 1 and 44: Suicide
  • Suicide rate amongst Aboriginal youth is 5 to 6 times higher
  • 98% of residential school survivors have a mental illness
  • Rates of suicide in Aboriginal communities where no protective factors (Control over land/Band controlled schools/Cultural facilities/Control over health care, fire, police) are present: 137.5 per 100,000 (where the national average is 14 per 100,000)

These statistics are not from the 1960s or the 1970s. These numbers are from 2009 onwards.

It makes you wonder why this group experiences these situations at a much higher rate when compared to the rest of a country, a country that is supposed to be credited with its level of equality, human rights, justice…. Well, it may not make you wonder but it makes me wonder. To read a different viewpoint on this issue of Aboriginals, check out my post titled, It’s Not All About You.

In the end, I hope that one day people can stop making ignorant statements against Aboriginals, and other marginalized groups as well. I plan to work towards this equality and educating non-Aboriginals about situations that Aboriginals still face today in present-day Canada.

One day.

You can read other posts I have written about Aboriginal youth, Suicide amongst Aboriginals, and another post concerning The Gazette by clicking on the tags below.

Canadian Government & Indian Smokes

Canada Government Advertisement
Canadian Government ad

These two above pictures are from an advertisement from a newspaper.

It advertises that you should not by “Contraband Cigarettes” because it will fuel other activities, like trafficking of drugs. Looking at the advertisement and the cigarettes in the picture, it looks like to me a big, giant bag of Indian Smokes. The issue with that is non-First Nations members are going to the First Nations and buying the smokes. I know, there should be some sort of type of filtering in place. There usually is: show your status card and you can buy the smokes. Doesn’t always happen like that.

Read this Globe and Mail article titled Illegal Smokes Hit All-Time High.

The main source for illegal smokes: Natives.

The suggestion: Outlaw all the materials that it takes to make illegal smokes (well, I am sure with some exception).

However, as an Aboriginal, tobacco is widely used at traditional ceremonies. Sometimes the attendance at these ceremonies is in the 100s. I don’t know the extent of this suggestion or if any bills were put in place to help counter the sales of contraband cigarettes. But suggestions like the one above does not take into account that Aboriginal culture still uses tobacco. No, there is no such thing as a peace pipe (That was purely made up for Hollywood Movies. Check out my post titled Documentary: Reel Injun for other facts about Aboriginals and Hollywood). No we don’t just sit around a fire and smoke tobacco all day. The tobacco in the Aboriginal culture is very sacred and is used in various settings. Yes, it can be smoked, but it is not always smoked. Sometimes it is just passed on from one person to another as a form of gratitude.

Tobacco in the Aboriginal culture is very sacred.

I think when people begin to associate “Indian Smokes” with Aboriginals, it takes away from this sacredness. But don’t let the misconceptions fool you. We still use it for ceremonial purposes. Not every Aboriginal smokes tobacco either. I am Aboriginal, and I use tobacco but do not smoke it.

Anyways back to the advertisements, I am not impressed. I am not impressed because in the advertisement it says:

“Do Not Buy Contraband Cigarettes….it fuels criminal activity, such as the trafficking of drugs…”

Thanks Canadian Government, once again. I thought you were trying to improve your relationships with Aboriginals. This ad is a step backwards because it associates contraband smokes, the abundant of them found on First Nations (as stated in the Globe and Mail article) or it associates the Indian Smokes with “drug trafficking.”

What does that mean for Aboriginals: it makes the assumption that drug trafficking happens in great numbers on First Nations (Because isn’t it after all the contraband smokes that come from First Nations. As a logical person, one might begin to think: Aboriginals must also be fueling the criminal activity, such as that as drug trafficking).

My suggestion to the problem: Why not make all cigarettes illegal, and not just the ones made mostly on Canadian First Nations?

Thank you Canadian Government. You’ve done a lovely job, yet again…

Update: This advertisement was found in the UWO Gazette on page 4. Their Style Issue. Volume 104, Issue 87. Don’t worry Gazette, I get it… You have to cover costs through advertisements. Thanks for making this school newspaper free for all readers at UWO.

Mental Health: Message from Andrew Forgione

Message from Andrew Forgione, new USC Prez at UWO!

Mental health is just as important as physical health!

Mental Health Awareness week is going to be on at UWO March 21-24/2011 in the UCC! Same time as the Income Tax Clinic…Can’t forget about your taxes!

Check it out the youtube channel Mental Health UWO.

Check out this cool site as well called Mind your mind!

Here is also the website for London Distress Center!

Don’t forget you are never alone (no matter how much you feel that way)! The help is there…Read my post on reaching out for help titled Not your fault!

I believe….

Today, I am sitting at my present school, University of Western Ontario. I wish I could be attending TEDxUWO right now, but must complete this essay instead. I normally have my essays finished well in advance but decided to change my topic last minute (may be a good idea or a bad idea).

Taken from the TEDxUWO website, this is what it is all about:

TEDxUWO is an innovative organization that brings the best and brightest innovators in the country to Western for a once in a lifetime opportunity for you on Saturday, March 12, at the Grand Theatre in downtown London.

This is an opportunity to learn from the best. If you’re a student who aspires to take on a larger role in the private or public sector, a young scientist who seeks to leave a mark in research, or an entrepreneur who is just starting out — you will have a chance to gain from leaders who have built successful and enduring careers, including some of our very own alumni.

‎​We embarked on a journey to bring TEDx to campus because we knew it would be an opportunity of a lifetime for Western students. We’re hoping that people will continue to take an interest, and we’re confident you’ll like what you see

I wish I could have gone. I noticed that one of the speakers was UWO’s Own Mr. Adrian Owen. I remembered reading about when UWO’s first media release announcing Owen’s arrival and thinking about his work. His work, according to TEDxUWO, is on:

Residual brain function in patients who are non-responsive after suffering a severe brain injury.

Mr. Owen’s work caught my attention because I am a brain injury survivor. Although, I did acquire a “severe” brain injury… I am still a brain injury survivor. I was in the hospital for a month. I don’t remember much of my hospital stay. When I was released, I was considered still “comatose.” I had double vision for 6 months, had headaches everyday, constantly tired, constant ringing in my ears, mood swings… I wrote a post titled Acquired Brain Injury. The post kind of describes my experiences living with an ABI.

Now how does this relate to Mr. Owen’s work? When I was in a coma, I remember, strangely, the things people were saying around me. I don’t know why I remember these things or why I cant even remember a few days before the accident. I remember people talking around me in the coma. It was a strange experience. I believe that Mr. Owen’s work is applying science to beliefs…

I can’t describe what my family went through when I was in a coma. But what I do know is that I had to get worse in order to be transferred to a different hospital. At the new hospital, I wasn’t just left there. I remember people talking around me, talking to me, holding my hand. I could feel them.

If there is one thing that I can take from this experience to tell other people who are or may be going through the same thing that my family went through:

If you have a family member or a friend who is in a coma, whether they are unresponsive or not, talk to them, touch them, just be there with them.

Imagine being in a hospital bed, with nobody there. Even if you could talk and open your eyes. Being alone in the hospital sucks. Now imagine being there, alone and unable to talk, unable to open your eyes, unable to speak… That would suck even more. It makes me angry when I hear doctors tell other patient’s families: “They probably won’t hear you, but you can try to talk to them.” JUST BELIEVE!

The work of Adrian Owen is applying science to belief. His work is saying, “You know what: people who are unresponsive may still have some responsiveness.” I agree with him because in my coma despite me not being able to remember accident, for some strange reason, I remember people around me, talking to me, touching me…

This is my story. I believe in Mr. Owen’s work. I may not have been one to be in a “vegetative” state but I believe that his work puts meaning to my words when I say that I remember hearing people around me, feeling them.

Even though some reasons may be harder to take than others, I believe that everything happens for a reason.

Past versus Present

Today, I had the opportunity to sit in on a meet and greet with Phil Fontaine here at my university. Unfortunately, I walked in only half way. I regret missing the beginning of his talk.

I did walk in on something interest. He stated just minutes after I walked in relating to Canadian Aboriginal people’s past saying that we need to fill in the “missing chapters.” In question and answer period with the students, questions were asked. I asked a question relating to one of my essays I am working on pertaining to education and Aboriginal children. My essay’s hypothesis is: Aboriginal students’ confidence levels may increase if Aboriginal history and culture is taught. What I mean by Aboriginal history, is not just the horrible things that happened in the past but also the positive history stories.

Recently, I came up with the idea to put to use my talent of writing and drawing. I love to write and draw, and it’s always been a dream of mine to write a book–whether black and white print or a child’s book. I would really like to write a child’s book, and illustrate it as well. That would be my ultimate dream.

I presented to Phil Fontaine my idea and how I would like to write about the good things that Aboriginal people have done. After saying all this, I kind of felt frustrated because 1) I could not get my actual point across because of my emotions 2) He grew up in a different era than I. I know, not his fault.

I could not get my point across that yes. I acknowledge the past and I would like to write about the past, but what also needs to happen is the positive stories. Growing up, I had my family as my positive support and motivation. I was fortunate growing up because not all Aboriginal youth have this basic structure in their life: family. I looked up to my sisters, my mom and my dad. I remember watching my dad doing his essays for his university degree. I remember watching my mom as well. When I needed help with my school papers, my mom would always say, “Get your dad to edit your papers, he was really good at that.” I remember thinking that I wanted to be just like my dad and be good at writing. I wanted to be like my mom, in all her hard work she done as a student, a mother, a wife, and a community member. My mom and dad were great motivation because they gave us the freedom to pursue what we wanted, and together my parents, would provide the guidance and care as needed. My sisters were motivators because well, they were my first best friends and will always be my best friends.

However, I felt that I was most frustrated in that I could not say that when I was growing up and going to school, there was no motivation outside of school. I am thankful for my family for all the motivation they did provide, because where would I be without them? Phil Fontaine made a point that we need to acknowledge our history, and I acknowledge and appreciate where he is coming from as he is a residential school survivor. However, I wanted to make a point that we need to start young, and motivate young Aboriginal people to stay in school. I believe in my point, just as much as I appreciate his point and background. I believe in my point because if young Aboriginal people do not have the motivation or confidence to stay in school, where will the future of Aboriginal people’s be heading to (I say this as a frustrated young person: History doesn’t matter if you have no future).

The issue with Aboriginal young people is drugs, alcohol, suicide, gangs, violence, criminal activity, as Phil Fontaine presented. The bigger issue is not having the motivation or confidence to avoid those experiences. The issue is not being able to have outside motivators other than one’s own family. This is an issue because sometimes their family is not even a “family.”

If the education of Aboriginal history, both positive and negative experiences, begins at a younger age to both Aboriginals and non-Aboriginals, it will bring about a greater awareness to the situation of Aboriginals in Canada. That is my idea, a concern for the future. As these young people grow older, they will be more aware of what happened, and what is happening today (and maybe what the causes are of the present situation of Aboriginals). They will be better able to apply their knowledge to help provide for or at least attempt to provide for solutions to the Aboriginal people’s problems. They may know why there is a lot of substance abuse, and gangs, and violence, and why Aboriginal people are over-represented in the prison system. They may know what causes these multigenerational problems, like those of physical abuse, sexual abuse, or emotional abuse, and why these problems still persist today.

After hearing his response to my question and my idea, I felt that there is still the issue of young versus old, past versus present. We need to bring those two together to realize that one without the other cannot exist: Aboriginal people need their history as much as they need their young, and their young need to know their history to help them realize that the issues in their hometown or community are not their fault–that is the issue today. Most importantly, the rest of Canada needs to know this history in order to help their young, both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal, to grow and understand each other. That is the solution, in my opinion. Getting rid of the “versus.”

Phil Fontaine @ UWO

I am soooooooo excited about this event! The only thing I am not so excited about is that it is also on the same night as a different event 😦

Here are the details for the event…

Who: Phil Fontaine
Where: UWO Faculty of Law, Room 38
When: March 3, 2011 @ 7:30pm
Why you should go: It’s Human Rights! Everyone should be concerned about Human Rights! Plus it’s free…but that shouldn’t be your only reason to go 😉