Soaring Youth: Indspire Conference

I was asked to give a speech to donors about my background and how the funds from Indspire contributed to my post-secondary education. Here is what I had to say:

Every one of us has a dream. Mine has always been to see the success of Indigenous communities and to contribute in some way to that success.Generous donors, honorable guests and Indspire team, thank you for your support of my dream. My name is Tamara. In may I will be graduating from the U of O Faculty of Medicine and in July I will be starting the University of Ottawa Family Medicine Residency Program.Today I want to tell you about my background, how my dream of becoming a doctor was shaped and how indspire helped me achieve my goal.

When I was young all I wanted to be was beautiful and happy. To be honest, I did not spend too much thinking about a career. I was too busy with friends and TV. My mother was not too happy about this. She was a residential school survivor. She spent most months between the ages of 7-16 being told her she would never amount to anything of importance. So, in an act of rebellion, she took it as a challenge to prove those nuns wrong.She graduated, then travelled to London, Ontario to obtain a Geography Degree. She was convinced that education would lead to a better life and a means to provide back to the Indigenous community. At the time treaties agreements were being disputed so as a Geography Major she could made significant contributions to this field, which she did.

She had me in Montreal. I grew up half an hour from Oka during the nineties. Since my mother did not speak about her upbringing, I grew up wondering, why are we so angry? Every few summers we would travel back to the NWT to visit family, friends and attend Pow Wows. I have so many fond memories of these summers. I remember being the first one to start dancing at Pow Wows. I remember watching the elders dry fish over a fire. I remember soaking in the breath-taking beauty of the landscape.Then we would return to Montreal and I would attend school. During the academic year, my mom would sit with me after as I struggled through french and english grammar. Her dedication to my studies taught me just how important school was.   

When I was 12, my mother passed away after a 5-year battle with cancer. I was still living in Montreal. My extended family was still in the NWT. As a result I was geographically and socially isolated from my Indigenous culture. I had to find my own way back. I found it in University. I worked at Ryerson Aboriginal Student Services (RASS) as a peer supporter. I helped organize cultural events, potlucks, talking circles and an Eagle Staff Ceremony. The people working at RASS were an indispensable support at a critical time in my life.  It was during these years, surrounded by these supportive individuals and in an academic environment that I dreamt of becoming a doctor.

Of all the career choices in the world, how did I decide on becoming a doctor? Medicine is useful wherever you go, but it is especially to the Indigenous community. Right now we suffer from many health problems such as mental illness, diabetes, high rates of tobacco use and many more. In response to this crisis medical schools in Canada are actively recruiting Indigenous students. The sad part is that for many years, the seats reserved for Indigenous students have been unfilled. This is attributed to many factors and the cost of education is definitely one of the them.

The staff at RASS and organizations such as Indspire supported my career decision the moment I declared. I was gifted a traveling opportunity to return to the NWT and study with a traditional Dene Healer. On this trip I created a vision of a practice that combined traditional health methods with western medicine. Since then, I have taken every opportunity to visit different indigenous communities and work towards creating a health care practice that combines Indigenous Health and Western medicine.

Each community has provided me with a great opportunity to work and learn in their medical setting. The greatest challenge to my vision was covering costs of tuition, application fees, flights, accommodations and meals. To give you some perspective, A round-trip flight to Chisasibi, a remote reserve on the shore of James Bay costs $2000.00. I could travel to London, England for less. That is where Indspire comes in. They helped cover the costs of traveling to communities such as Chisasibi and Winnipeg as well as help me pay for tuition. These trips have enriched my education and helped ease some the financial stress so that I could focus on my vision for the future and my studies. For this reason I want to extend a special thank you for your generous contributions.

Every one of us has a dream. Mine has always been to see the success of First Nation communities and to contribute in some way to that success. I am thankful for my mother’s message to pursue education, accept challenges and serve others and I am thankful for the generous support of the Indspire donors who helped me along my way to making that dream a reality.