|Photo Taken By Raigelee Alorut|
By: Christine Smith (McFarlane)
I never thought that I would be where I am in my academic journey-graduating with my Masters in Education in Social Justice from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) this year, but I am and I cannot help but shake my head and say “Wow I did it.”
My journey has not been easy. I am a first generation survivor of the residential school system and a product of the Sixties Scoop. My biological mom, Anna Smith went to two residential schools in Manitoba and suffered a lot of mental health issues as a result of her time spent at these schools. When it came time for her to have children (she had four-two sons and two daughters), it was alleged that she could not take care of us. Thankfully my sister Marguerite and I were adopted out together, but my brothers were taken elsewhere-one into an institution and the other adopted possibly out into the United States (we still do not know where he is).
The Sixties Scoop was an assimilationist policy made by the Canadian state to take native children away from their families and communities. I never knew my home community of Peguis, one of the largest reserves in Manitoba until I was well into my twenties and early thirties. That was when I met my birth mom. My adoption broke down at the age of ten years old and I went back into foster care until I aged out of the system at the age of seventeen. After leaving my third foster home and heading back to my hometown of Windsor, Ontario, I enrolled in Journalism-Print at the local college. I could not finish the program though due to my own battles with depression and anorexia nervosa.
I did not return to school until I was in my late twenties and had moved to Toronto. After receiving encouragement from a social worker that worked with me, I was brought to First Nations House and was told by then academic counsellor Tracey King that I could enroll in Academic Bridging. I followed her advice and enrolled in Introduction to English Literature, and the following year passed the program to be able to go into part time studies at the University of Toronto. I enrolled in Aboriginal Studies and I can thank many people, including First Nations House staff who I met in my second year of undergraduate studies for encouraging me to keep at it.
I excelled enough in the first half of my second year to go into full time studies and that is what I did. I was finally learning about my culture, my language and making my own community here in Toronto, whereas I had lacked that before. I was offered many opportunities throughout my studies, and won several awards at the same time. I won the Lillian McGregor Award for Excellence, studied in Sydney Australia for five weeks in the summer of 2010, studied in Belize in 2011, and won the President’s Award for Outstanding Native Student of the Year upon my graduation from the University of Toronto with a specialization in Aboriginal Studies in 2011.
In 2012, I won the Centre for Mental Health and Addiction’s Transforming Lives Award for overcoming mental health issues. I remember that night clearly when I stood in front of a crowd of 900 people and said “Obstacles can be overcome.”
I took three years off after graduating, and then decided to do my Master’s. I wanted to do a collaborative program in health, but instead was offered not only space in the Master’s program part time but also space in the full time program of Social Justice, which I can now say I am really grateful for, because it is right up my alley.
I have kept up my writing throughout my years of studies, writing for Anishinabek News, FNH Magazine and other places, including keeping up my own personal blog that I write that primarily focuses on First Nations issues.
Throughout my Masters in Education journey, I have obtained high grades and have been a part of the TRC Steering Working Committee of Students at the University of Toronto, and was a part of the procession this past year for Dr. James Bartleman when he received his Honourary Doctor of Laws Degree. I finish my course work for my Masters of Education in December 2016 and officially graduate in 2017
My education has been important to me. It has kept me focused and on a path that I used to think I could never handle, but I did it. I did it for myself, my niece and my birth family. I wanted to show not only myself but them that “obstacles can be overcome!”
This is an original article written for FNH Magazine- this is one version of it that I wanted to share with my readers. Miigwetch!