How connecting with her Indigenous identity was a source of 'strength' for one UWindsor student

·2 min read
UWindsor law master's student Stephanie Pangowish appears in front of the former Mohawk Institute Residential School in Brantford. (Courtesy Stephanie Pangowish - image credit)
UWindsor law master's student Stephanie Pangowish appears in front of the former Mohawk Institute Residential School in Brantford. (Courtesy Stephanie Pangowish - image credit)

Stephanie Pangowish grew up in Toronto, but for her it wasn't quite home.

While there are some supports for Indigenous people in the city, she said, it wasn't Six Nations of Grand River Territory or Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory, where her roots are.

"In elementary school, [there was] also some teasing about Indigenous heritage and Indigenous culture that caused me to shy away and feel shame," she said.

That shame, she said, resulted in her backing away from opportunities to learn the languages of her communities. But after experiencing difficulty and trauma in life, and something of an identity crisis, she reconnected with her background as a Haudenosaunee and Anishinaabe woman.

LISTEN: Stephanie Pangowish on Windsor Morning

"There's points where my family said, 'you need to come home.' and when being home and being around my great aunts and my aunts and my cousins, and seeing the love in our communities really made me want to connect more," she said.

That experience, along with being involved in Indigenous student services during her post-secondary education, allowed her to forge a deeper connection with her identity.

"It also caused me to have more strength in who I am as a person, and that fearlessness and strength that I came with, knowing who I am, allowed me to go into spaces that weren't created for Indigenous people at their creation point," she said.

Pangowish is currently working on a master's degree in law at the University of Windsor. She joined CBC Radio on Thursday to share her story and reflect on the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.

Visiting residential school 'hit home'

Her family members on Six Nations attended residential school, and their said their strength and resilience was a source of inspiration for her. She first visited the facility they attended, Mohawk Institute Residential School in Brantford, Ont., with a student group.

"When we had heard the tour and the stories of what people could tell us, it was very difficult because it of course hit home for me," she said.

She said that today, she's going to be thinking about children and what people can do to make the future better for them.

"There's a day that I imagine that our children don't have to advocate for equal treatment, basically," she said.

Support is available for anyone affected by their experience at residential schools and those who are triggered by these reports.

A national Indian Residential School Crisis Line has been set up to provide support for residential school survivors and others affected. People can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis line: 1-866-925-4419.

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