I was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to participate in an Aboriginal Peer Mentorship Program put on by OISE this semester and my first mentoring session happened this week.
OISE Elder-in-Residence Jacqui Lavalley and I went to visit a grade 11 Native Studies class in a Catholic School somewhere near the edge of the GTA. Jacqui is delightful, and we had a lot of fun travelling to and from the school. Jacqui gave a traditional opening ceremony to the presentation and also gave a wonderful teaching to the students. Next, I spoke about my educational journey as an Indigenous person, though there was not enough time to say as much as I wanted.
The students were great listeners and asked great questions and even gave us Tim Horton’s gift cards! I’d never been to a Catholic school before and I’d never encountered school uniforms before either so the trip was a great learning opportunity!
However, visiting a high school forced me to revisit some old feelings I haven’t encountered in a long time. Jacqui had mentioned that the tobacco tie I’d been given in the ceremony knew everything about me and that I could not hide anything from it. That’s an important fact and I finally realized I’d been hiding some emotions from myself ever since I left Cochrane High School.
Even before I left to go to the mentor session, I noticed myself falling into old trains of thought. I stood in front of a mirror and questioned my own appearance and physique because that’s what I was used to every day in high school. That can’t be healthy, right?
Many different feelings came back to me in a big rush. I remembered how hard it was being viciously judged by other kids for every little thing you did or said or wore. I remember how alone they all made me feel.
I also don’t drink or party and that left me excluded from 99% of social activities.
One of the students at the mentoring session asked me an amazing question: “How did you keep from caving in to the peer pressures?”
This question really helped me remember the good parts of high school. I remembered that I was proud that I wasn’t like those goofy peers of mine! I was proud of my accomplishments, my grades, my individuality, my interests, my heritage, my ability to say no to alcohol.
I learned to be proud because my parents always told me how proud they were of me. I can’t thank my parents enough for that support. When you are proud of yourself and you stay true to your heart, it doesn’t matter what a bunch of confused teenagers (or adults, for that matter) think of you!
It breaks my heart to think other students out there don’t have parents who will say they are proud. Everybody has plenty to be proud of, no matter what. Everyone is important.
After returning from the mentor session, I had an evening lecture in First Nations House for my Anishinaabemowin class. I remembered how proud I am to be in U of T, learning an Indigenous language and reconnecting with my community. I remembered how good it feels to walk into a place like First Nations House and have great conversations and laughs with real friends in a supportive environment.
I remembered how far I’ve come and how far you can come too.