Tuesday, June 21, 2011

National Aboriginal Day 2011

If you had asked me about what National Aboriginal day means last year or even earlier this year, I wouldn't have known what to tell you... while I am part Aboriginal on my Mom's side, all I knew about being Aboriginal was that I had this card that said I was a Status Indian which gave me privileges my non-native counterparts did not have like tax free purchases on or delivered to the reserve and a "sponsored" post secondary education.  I don't know anything about Cree culture or traditions which I always thought was because my Mom married a non native man and I have never lived on a reserve.  Up until this March 2011, I worked with people with developmental disabilities and could tell you alot about their history and challenges in today's society but I could not tell you much about Aboriginal people, late last year I decided it was time to change that.

I had gotten as far as I thought I was going to get in helping people with developmental disabilities, I was unhappy with the state of affairs in this province and the lack of available employment opportunities for people with developmental disabilities.  I no longer worked directly with people which was a decision I made the year before because of the challenges I was facing at the community level so I took an opportunity where I could make changes at a global level.  Unfortunately, the disconnect from the community level and red tape of the global level prevented me from enjoying the job to its fullest.  There were aspects that I loved; the few times I got to work directly with people, networking, organizing and hosting international speakers and providing keynote speeches for businesses and of course, my coworkers were amazing people.  However, over Christmas, I went home to NS for an extended Christmas vacation where I decided my time was up and it was time to move on and for whatever reason, I decided working with Aboriginal people is where I wanted to be.  I had just met a wonderful person a couple weeks before leaving for Christmas vacation who also had Aboriginal ancestry and this had intrigued me as well.

After coming back home to BC, I started looking around at local Aboriginal organizations that could use my education, experience and skills and that is when I found a local Aboriginal organization that is delegated to provide family support and child protection services to Aboriginal children.  They were hiring social workers, so after checking out their vision and mission on their website and the job description, I thought it was a perfect fit and applied.  I was called for an interview for a Child Protection Social Worker, quickly prepared myself for it and was interviewed by three people at the organization.  The interview went exceptionally well as I was being myself and just drew upon my experience with people with developmental disabilities to answer their questions.  I was contacted within one week and conditionally offered a job depending on the results of my criminal record check and degree verification, I went into the office to fill out that paperwork.  Another week went by before hearing from them again... they wanted to check my references which included my current supervisor.  That meant I had to talk to her and tell her my intention to leave, which I did and she kindly provided a reference for me.  I was offered a job and gave my two week notice.

I was nervous and excited to make the move, I started on March 14th and although it's only been a little over three months, I feel like it was the right move and I am exactly where I am supposed to be.  I have been so lucky to learn about culture and tradition while getting paid.  I have had a once in a lifetime opportunity through this work to do 8 weeks of classroom training that is culturally sensitive to Aboriginal people and guided by the Child, Family and Community Services Act and Aboriginal Operational and Practice Standards and Indicators.  I honestly could not think of a better fit for my life right now.

So, with this fabulous experience, I still have alot to learn but I do know a little more about what it means to be Aboriginal and why I don't carry any of the Cree culture or traditions thanks to colonization and residential school systems.  I plan on learning and sharing my teachings with my Mom whose culture was taken away from her.  I also look forward to using these teachings to help families and children who continue to be affected by the government's acts of assimilation so many generations ago and in a way, continues to happen today.

But for today, we celebrate for the resiliency and strength of Aboriginal people in Canada, celebrate their culture and traditions and honor those who lived and thrived on this land thousands of years before any European descendant ever set foot in the sands of the coasts of Canada.  Happy Aboriginal Day!

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