Two Wikwemikong students recognized by Ontario universities as positive aboriginal role models

The group of role models named through the Council of Ontario Universities Future Further program. Wikwemikong band members Amy Shawanda (front row, fourth from the left) and Josh Manitowabi (back row, second from the left) were two of the role models named.

WIKWEMIKONG—Wikwemikong band members Amy Shawanda and Joshua Manitowabi have been named role models through the Council of Ontario Universities’ Future Further program.

“As the number of aboriginal leaders continues to grow, so too does the volume and richness of their stories,” states the Future Further website. “Through this initiative, Ontario’s 20 publicly funded universities are promoting awareness of the achievements of these learners and how they are making a difference in communities across Ontario and indeed, Canada. The campaign also seeks to improve aboriginal learner attraction, retention and completion at Ontario universities by demonstrating the holistic benefits a university education, and promoting a positive view of postsecondary education within aboriginal communities.”

Ms. Shawanda and Mr. Manitowabi were two of 13 aboriginal students that were recognized as role models and shared their stories of overcoming obstacles on their education paths.

When Ms. Shawanda decided she wanted to return to school to pursue a post secondary degree, she had to juggle being a single mom with her education.

“I was living and working in Orillia, so I moved back to Sudbury to attend Laurentian (University),” said Ms. Shawanda. “Every year presented different challenges and barriers to overcome, but a big one was being a single parent in university. I had some hard days when I was sick or things came up, but my friends and family were a big support system, which helped.”

Ms. Shawanda obtained her bachelor of law and justice and indigenous studies and is now completing her master’s degree in indigenous relations with her thesis titled: “an examination of the integration processes of Anishinaabe smudging ceremonies in Northeastern Ontario health care facilities.”

“Postsecondary education has had a huge impact on my life,” said Ms. Shawanda. “It is where my healing journey began. It helped me to find my identity, cultural teachings, and a connection to my language. It has also given me a great support system that has allowed me to teach my child about the traditional Anishinaabe way of life.”

In the fall Ms. Shawanda will be attending Trent University for a PhD in indigenous studies.

Ms. Shawanda grew up in Wikwemikong and said that she credits a lot of her education to the strong foundation that she received at her community’s schools.

“I was very honoured to be named a role model through Future Further,” Ms. Shawanda told The Expositor. “Both Josh and I are from Murray Hill (in Wikwemikong) and grew up just down the road from each other—it’s nice that we were both recognized.”

Mr. Manitowabi said that he is proud to be the first person in his immediate family to earn a university degree.

“I had a rough childhood,” Mr. Manitowabi shared with The Expositor. “My brother passed away at a young age and it was traumatizing. I sang at powwows throughout my youth, but at age 18 I got into a party lifestyle. I lost three of my cousins during that time to suicide and it made me want to change my path and sober up. I have now been sober 10 years.”

Mr. Manitowabi said in his younger years he had a passion for history, so when he decided to go back to school, he attended McMaster University and received his BA in history and indigenous studies.

He is finishing his master’s degree in cultural anthropology with his thesis on integrating Anishinaabe knowledge in education curriculum.

“The most difficult challenge I’ve faced in pursuing this dream was moving seven hours away from my parents, particularly my father, who wasn’t well,” said Mr. Manitowabi. “People in my community are very encouraging to me when I am home. They motivate me to stick with my studies and to be successful. Attending university has given me a strong sense of pride, self-respect, and self-esteem and I am looking forward to continuing my education journey.”

Mr. Manitowabi said that once this work is completed, he would like to attend teacher’s college or pursue a PhD, with his ultimate goal to work as an historical researcher.

Mr. Manitowabi and Ms. Shawanda were honoured at Queen’s Park with the other Future Further role models.

To learn more about Future Further, visit www.futurefurther.ca.