Finding My Purpose

Aaniin, boozhoo, indinawemaaganidook. Natasha Meryl Miskwaa Dibik Giizis nindizhnikaaz. Mikinak nindodem. Michi Saagiig nindoonjiibaa.

Hello, all my relatives. My name is Natasha Meryl Miskwaa Dibik Giizis. Turtle is my totem. Michi Saagig is where I am from.

My role within ANHBC is Program Coordinator of the Indigenous Youth Employment Program (‘IYEP’), through Frog Hollow Neighbourhood House. I have been in this role since June 2020. IYEP is funded through the Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Training, and facilitated by members of the Indigenous community (like me!). IYEP is for Indigenous youth aged 16-29 in East Vancouver and surrounding areas. Workshops are presented on a holistic range of topics, thoughtfully curated to increase self-confidence, provide life skills and strategies, and support folks where they are at with the tools and assets they identify that can best help them participate and ultimately become ‘work-ready’; but beyond that, there is a lot of healing and community building that goes on. Workshops and presentations include resume and cover letter writing, interview skills, financial literacy, art therapy, and cultural components, led by local Indigenous guest speakers, knowledge keepers, and community members. Eight weeks of pre-employment workshops are followed by a paid 12-week practicum placement with a trusted community partner business or organization.

I am the descendant of a British mother and Ojibwe father. I grew up on the land of Curve Lake First Nation Reservations #35 in Ontario until age 8, when my parents divorced, and my time became divided between the reserve and the nearby village of Lakefield. As time went on, my ties to the Ojibwe reserve and community dwindled. I graduated college as a graphic designer before moving to BC in May of 2013. In the years leading up to me finding Frog Hollow (before I even knew what a ‘Neighbourhood House’ was), I worked a lot of ‘corporate’ and menial jobs; mostly retail, dotted with freelance graphic design, and eventually project management for a company serving corporate clients. In the spring of 2019, I received a large cheque from the government for The Williams Treaty (that’s another story), which afforded me an opportunity to start over. I came to the conclusion that the ‘rat-race’ was not fulfilling for me, and was also pretty stressful, so I made the decision to quit the job I was doing in Corporation Land. I didn’t know what I wanted to do next, but I knew I wanted to reconnect with the native community, and, if I was lucky, have an opportunity to do some type of work that would uplift us all. After taking a four-month trip to India for self-discovery and enjoyment, I got back to BC and started working with an Employment Counsellor at Drive Youth Employment Services. I shared with her a bit of my story and experience, and my values, and with all of this information she prompted me to apply for this role with Frog Hollow. I applied, and the rest is history.

As soon as I stepped into this role at Frog Hollow, my path became clearer and clearer, and the inner Decolonization work began. The tight, stiff, and stuffy ‘colonized’ pieces of me started to fall away; welcoming in love and acceptance, and allowing me to better heal and reconnect with my Ojibwe native ancestry in so many ways, in all aspects of my life. I used to carry a lot of shame around what I should be doing, how I should be acting and dressing, and my personal failure to meet the over-culture’s markers of success.

A big part of this internal Decolonization is coming from the community-minded nature of the Neighbourhood House, but most notably from the Decolonization work we are doing with the ANHBC Core Transformation Team with Ta7talíya Nahanee and Norm Leech. More recently, through this work, I had the absolute privilege and amazing opportunity to be able to travel to France for an International Neighbourhood/Settlement House Conference as part of the ANHBC delegation, alongside four indigenous community leaders and our ANHBC CEO to present on the ‘big scary’ topic of Decolonization. It was an opportunity for me to start to build confidence in sharing my story, and learn how I can use it to spread awareness on a global scale.

Every challenging, confusing, and beautiful experience along the path of my life has brought me to this work, and it is just the beginning. I am learning so much, and try to share all that I learn with the participants of our program. I believe the work ANHBC is doing has hugely positive implications - for our organization and beyond.

Apichiigo miigwetch bizindawiyeg.

That is all I have to share for today.

Thank you for listening.

Natasha Meryl Miskwaa Dibik Giizis

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