The Mystery of Identity: Adam Nepon Finds His Métis Ancestry And A Journey of Inclusion
It was the plot twist he never saw coming, growing up in a Jewish household, attending a Jewish Day School in a predominantly Jewish neighbourhood. Adam Nepon learned later in life he is both Red River Valley Métis and Ashkenazi Jewish.
As a proud Métis person, he works with IGM financial as their senior talent advisor for Indigenous relations, helping them implement the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s call to action 92 towards Indigenous inclusion. He’s found openness and good intent organizationally with varying levels of individual understanding of the social history of Indigenous communities in Canada.
Thinking back on his personal history, Nepon’s childhood was idyllic until middle school as the oldest in a family of eight kids. His parents’ marriage fell apart, descending into abuse and instability. His father stepped out of his life and his mother was busy raising his siblings. He lacked direction, identity and made many mistakes before getting back on track.
“I'm fortunate that certain things happened in life, negative and positive, that have driven me to where I am now.”
Struggling at university in a community that exerted a lot of pressure for professional success, he wasn’t built for school, with undiagnosed dyslexia, ADHD and being slightly on the spectrum. When Nepon graduated, he found work in temporary labour human resources, recruiting for entry level jobs and noticing how many of the temporary workers were hardworking Indigenous people stuck in a temporary labour cycle. After watching a documentary hosted by Wab Kinew, he heard about residential schools and started to understand things better.
That experience led him to research Truth and Reconciliation more deeply and he got into an MBA program where he crossed paths with people from the Indigenous Business Education Program who invited him into community. Spending more time with Indigenous students, elders and people on campus, Nepon kept learning. He considered a course on Indigenous Economic Tenacity as an elective, then learned about a Native Studies program major that could be combined with the MBA but hadn’t yet been attempted.
He decided to go for it, driven by curiosity and a sense that he had been lied to his whole life. Nepon’s mother’s Indigeneity was not discussed when he was young, given the risk and shame attached to it. Looking at the St. Boniface archives, he can trace his ancestry back to the 1500s. His only concept of Indigenous community was in the impoverished North end, mixed with negative media and misinformation in a predominately white world. Understanding academically and practically, getting involved to learn more, he ended up pursuing his current role, a chance to make an impact with Indigenous inclusion.
His favourite part of the work he does is being able to share information people are interested in, to have tough and emotional conversations and the opportunity to re-educate people beyond their biases and perceptions. Nepon can see how repositioning mindsets can impact the rest of the country through economic development.
His advice for Indigenous youth trying to make career decisions is based on his own experiences, walking through life with fair skinned privileges but as a visible minority. Exercising the tenacity and resilience he’s built, understanding its a muscle and learning to harness the energy trauma created helped him manage and cope.
Nepon was able to gain those skills through mentors and learned about different career paths beyond what he had been shown, staying curious and building a network to help him succeed. To create space for success, he had to let go of a lot of negative relationships and activities. Along the way, he learned to lean into purpose instead of chasing income, knowing that money can never fully satisfy, and to find his balance, surrounded by people he admires.
One of the people he admired was his brother who was a music industry entrepreneur who died of brain cancer at 29, having already accomplished much in such a short life. His brother supported local independent artists who made experimental music, working with empathy and passion. His brother inspires him every day as he looks at the pendant that bears his fingerprint. He wants to bring his brother’s empathy and compassion into the business world which can be harsh and fixated on metrics and numbers instead of relationships.
Looking to the future, he’s trying to gain a better understanding of the call to action 92 and others. He hopes to see more Indigenous youth proud of their identity, reclaiming language and culture. Jewish language, culture, art and food helped him find purpose as a youth and he hopes Indigenous youth have opportunities to experience the benefits of that grounding. He hopes that allies will understand their responsibility to self-educate and take that initiative and he wants to gain a better understanding of his own Indigeneity and its duality with his Jewish heritage.
He’s experienced how people feel being Métis that he’s not Indigenous enough but the teaching he received from one of his knowledge keepers is that you can’t just be a little bit Indigenous, you are or you’re not. Nepon claims his Indigenous identity full-heartedly. “If people want to question that, dissect whatever you want, but I know inside what it feels and I'm indigenous,” he declares.
Adam Nepon’s Indigenous identity as a Red River Valley Métis man was the plot twist he never saw coming, growing up in a Jewish household, attending a Jewish Day School in a predominantly Jewish neighbourhood. Now he’s writing a new chapter in his story, one that he hopes will make a difference for workplace inclusion and bring him closer to who he’s been all along.
Thanks to Alison Tedford Seaweed for authoring this article.
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