In 2017, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Canada launched a National Youth Mentoring Advisory Council (NYMAC) to ensure that young people are shaping the future of mentoring in Canada.

These young leaders have firsthand experience as mentees and mentors with Big Brothers Big Sisters. They bring enthusiasm and a fresh perspective to our work and they hope to inspire more of their peers to get involved locally.

National Indigenous People’s day is coming up on June 21. It’s an opportunity to recognize and celebrate the contributions of Indigenous communities across Canada – and there are plenty – starting from acknowledging the lands on which we reside on that many of us are settlers on.

For this month’s blog, we are highlighting an incredible member of our National Youth Mentoring Advisory Council (NYMAC).

Interviewer: Thank you for speaking with me. I wanted to start off by asking you which Indigenous community do you come from? Can you share any traditions or beliefs that are part of your culture?

NYMAC Member: I am from Red Peasant First Nations located on Treaty 6 in North Battleford. Unfortunately, growing up I wasn’t with my family and did not grow up around my cultural traditions. I lived in and out of foster care. However, now that I am older, I am trying to reconnect to my heritage.

Interviewer: What was life like during your childhood before you got involved with your local Big Brothers Big Sisters organization? How did you get involved with the agency?

NYMAC Member: Well, it was kind of scary not having stability all the time as I didn’t grow up with my family or my siblings. At one point, my foster mom signed me up for a mentor with Big Brothers Big Sister. Having a mentor has changed my life. It made me realize that there was someone there who cared for me and who wanted to spend time with me and who allowed me to have experiences that a child should.

Interviewer: You’ve mentioned your childhood. How did stereotypes against Indigenous people affect you while growing up?

NYMAC Member: Very badly. In elementary school, I would get bullied a lot. I would get called all the names in the book especially racial slurs towards Indigenous people. I felt I would have to hide my identity.

Interviewer: You said that having a mentor has changed your life. How do you think your circumstances would be different if you did not have a mentor?

NYMAC Member: I’m the only one involved in a mentoring program in my family. I have three brothers and three sisters. I grew up very disconnected with most of my family and it made me feel like I was I had to go through life alone. I have been given various opportunities growing up and I have been successful in reaching many of my goals. Most of my siblings did not finish high school or are experiencing substance abuse issues. Having a mentor growing up has helped me connect with someone who I felt safe, accepted and encouraged by. I am now finished my first year of university and studying Education to become a teacher. I hope someday to teach and support children who have experienced similar situations throughout their childhood.

Interviewer: Has mentoring helped you connect with your culture? If so, how?

NYMAC Member: It has encouraged me to connect more and it is still a journey I am on. My Big Sister has always encouraged me to embrace myself, my culture and my roots. We were matched when I was 8 years old and she has been my Big Sister for 10 years. It has been a relationship that I can count on.

Interviewer: It’s wonderful that your Big Sister has been there to watch your grow into the person you are today. What is your life like now?

NYMAC Member: I am happy with how my life is turning out and that my dedication to have a better life is looking up. Often now that I am doing well for myself and that I have my life together people think that I do not need support and/or I did not have to work immensely hard to get where I am. I still deal with racism and stereotypes almost everywhere I go. For example, at my workplace, it has been hard as people there talk lowly about Indigenous peoples, they are surprised when I tell them that I am Indigenous. They assume I wouldn’t be because they have a predetermined notion about who an Indigenous person is and what they are capable of.

Interviewer: Thank you for sharing your story with us. Do you have any parting words of wisdom that you would like to share with others who are dealing with similar experiences?

NYMAC Member: I would just have to say, look forward to the future because the world is getting more progressive. Do not hide in the shadows. Embrace your culture and who you are. I found that it has been important to not dwell on things that happened in the past but instead to learn from them. Know that you have to be vulnerable at times and find strength in your experiences. Having a Big Sister in my life has confirmed one thing: Don’t ever feel that you’re all alone. Reach out to someone. Or be that someone for somebody else.

This is one of the many stories about how having access to mentoring services has positively impacted young people across the country.

If you’re looking to get connected to a local Big Brothers Big Sisters organization, click here.

Interview conducted by Karine Pomilia Gauthier (Co-chair, National Youth Mentoring Advisory Council)