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“Healing Hands” – Renée’s Journey


Renee of Kebaowek First Nation

I am from Kebaowek First Nation in Kipawa, Quebec, a small hamlet where the sole stoplight continuously blinks red. My father is French Canadian, and my mother is Algonquin. From the time I was a baby, my father told me that being Indigenous was the coolest thing, that my connections would make me strong for life and help me choose the path I would ultimately follow.  But finding that path wasn’t always obvious to me or society. Today we recognize the path I speak of as the Road to Truth and Reconciliation, of self-determination, but back then - being of mixed race, there were times when I was at a loss to know who I was or where I belonged. As an Indigenous woman, I am thankful that my father instilled in me the pride of being Indigenous and the belief that I would draw strength from it and through my ancestors. 

At five years old, I went to kindergarten. I was excited to tell my class that I was Indigenous and meet friends who looked like and connected with me. Most of my schoolmates were from “Rez,” They were quick to put me in my place and tell me that I wasn’t from the reservation, so I couldn’t be an Indian. That was the first time I recognized the biases that colonialism placed on my people. Indigenous children thought that if you didn’t live on the reservation, you couldn’t be Indigenous, and even though I lived a five-minute drive from them – it was a distinction I had to work hard to overcome.

Being Indigenous is about being connected to place and culture, feeling the pulse of the land; it’s easy to lose perspective or embrace false assumptions when that's stripped from you. Understanding that living on a reservation is not the history of our people is powerful and enlightening, an understanding I came to early in life – it also helped me embrace my need to wander and explore the world around me. The world our ancestors roamed, where the reservation boundaries did not define who we are.

After completing High School in Quebec, I embarked on a journey with my cousin; our first stop was North Bay (for grade 12), about forty-five minutes from our hometown. It meant living on my own for the first time. During this time, I read the book “Three Day Road” by Joseph Boyden, which offers a glimpse into the life of Pegahmagabow, an Anishinaabe sniper and Canada’s most decorated Indigenous war hero. This book led me to believe that not enough has been written about Indigenous heroes or role models and that much of our history has been lost with our language. This revelation made me choose Laurentian University and Sudbury to pursue my post-secondary education and learn my language.

As soon as I arrived on campus, I fell in love. It was like a homecoming, like opening my eyes and seeing who I am and what I am meant to be – it was quite an unexpected discovery. The Indigenous Sharing and Learning Centre (ISLC) was so welcoming; I immediately knew that I had arrived at the right place on my journey at the right moment in my life. That was four years ago. Learning the language of my people has reconnected me to my inner purpose and my core. I have struggled with mental health issues, but my language has helped me heal; it was like finding the missing piece in a puzzle and putting it in place to complete the picture. Without it, the puzzle is never whole.

I met Mary Laur at the Sacred Fire, and we immediately bonded. We spoke about my journey, connection to language, and aspirations for the future, and Mary offered me a job as a Stem Learning Coach at the ISLC and every day, I am grateful for my role and the opportunity that I have to help students access the resources they need to support their journey. I am what you might call a peer mentor or general helper if you want to put a label on my contributions but what I actually do is show up at the ISLC three times a week. When I say show up, I mean I am present – present to chat, to listen to stories of intergenerational trauma, loneliness, and confusion. These are common issues for Indigenous students. We want to eliminate them by creating a safe and welcoming space.

I also help navigate students to resources, support, and events on and off-campus by welcoming them into the circle. One of the places I always share with and invite students is the wigwam and Sacred Fire. I can spend an entire week, eight hours a day in Ceremony reconnecting with my culture and the land. My peers and I are only now rediscovering our culture and traditions and it’s powerful medicine. My Indigenous name is Non’dwetch’a’geh Nyntch; it means healing hands, and one day I hope to practice medicine, both traditional Indigenous and Western.

My great-grandmother lost her status to the government, but they could not take away her tradition; one of the reasons I went through having my status reinstated was to honour my great-grandmother; I fought for it and had it returned to me in 2018. A few weeks back, I attended a drum making workshop and made my own drum, and immediately, upon playing it, my body filled with a joy I can’t quite express; it’s like sharing the best moments in life, the most sacred expressions, and feeling their rhythm vibrating beyond time. It’s hard to define in western words, but it is Ceremony.


Favourite song:  Anishinaabe Water Song.

Favourite pastime: Walking through Bell Park, I have a loop called the Laurentian Circle where I visit the beach and explore the campus – we need to protect it.

Favourite program: Always the language programs, they are powerful.

Future aspiration: I want to learn my language and become a medical doctor; it’s nerve-racking to check the mailbox to see if I have been accepted. Regardless, once I am, I will learn and incorporate my learnings into my culture and return to my community to offer healing and connections through traditional Indigenous healing and western medicine. That would be my way of not only preserving but elevating my culture.