Sitting at an impressively large round table in the boardroom of the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN), twenty or so teenagers from Career Trek’s Children Rising Program are here to receive a tour of the iconic “first of it’s kind” organization.
APTN is “first of it’s kind” because it was the first network in the world to produce programs by, for, and about Aboriginal people. In a sense, it is the voice of the Canadian Aboriginal community.
It’s a fitting setting for an inspirational talk about finding your voice in a world where some people face extra challenges and not enough support.
Chief Sheila North Wilson of Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO) First Nation shared stories with the participants, recounting the high and low points she encountered on her very own career path.
“When I first came to Winnipeg I had no idea what city life was like. I didn’t fit in and was two grades behind in high school,” says Wilson. “When I was in Oxford House, I was one of the top students, and I had perfect attendance.”
The shock of the transition to Winnipeg left Wilson struggling. She struggled with her school work, with bullying, and with shyness that left her speechless.
“That shaped my first introduction to city life,” says Wilson. “I got into different situations that could have been really dangerous.”
Wilson recounts how she was chased around downtown, jumped into a stranger’s car, and wound up almost being “recruited” by her 15-year-old girlfriend’s 40-year-old boyfriend.
“I thought life was going to be perfect in the city. It didn’t take long for my self-esteem to go all the way down,” says Wilson.
At age 26 she began to take control of her life because she didn’t want to be in a rut. She started her own business, went to college, and landed her dream job: Journalist at CBC.
“Telling stories is very important. We all have a role to play in our society and I found my job as a reporter very important,” says Wilson.
After seven years at CBC, Wilson began a new chapter in her life.
“The more I did stories about murdered and missing Aboriginal Women…it became more urgent for me to do something rather than just say something in a story,” says Wilson. “My activism was starting to get strong in my own mind and my own self.”
Wilson accepted a job as the Communications Manager for Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief, Derek Nepinak. She used her knowledge of how the media operates to coach him on how to approach media and talk to them. Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs soon became one of the loudest voices in First Nations advocacy.
Soon after, she was encouraged to run for Chief of her home community MKO. She was unsure whether she wanted the job or not; until one fateful day she was delivering a speech to a graduating class. “Go succeed, come back to your community and invest in your community, and put effort into making your community better,” she said. And it struck her that she had to live up to what she was saying.
Only six months into her new job as Chief, she is sitting at that impressively large round table at APTN with twenty or so teenagers from Career Trek and sharing her story and the secret to her and her husband’s success: support.
“I think it was because I believed in him and he believed in me. We saw no limits in each other. We just tried everything we wanted to do and that’s where we are,” says Wilson.
Much like Wilson and her husband believing in and supporting each other, Career Trek believes in the limitless potential in every kid. The Children Rising Program recognizes that some kids have extra challenges and tries to provide the support that is necessary to rise over them and become the voice of their community for the next generation.
“I think Career Trek is helping you figure out what you want to do and where you want to go,” Wilson tells the participants. “I think that I would have liked that when I was your age because I didn’t have anyone to show me how to transition into the next step.”
“I would take every opportunity to learn because the faster you learn the faster you get to where you are trying to get,” says Wilson.