One may find Amber Sandy tanning deer hides on her Toronto patio because that connection is a pathway to Indigenous elders and youth and a way for her to stay grounded in the busy city. She believes wholeheartedly that Indigenous people are natural scientists and works to integrate the two ways of knowing in her role as the coordinator for Indigenous knowledge and Science Outreach at Ryerson University.
“I really love to be on the land and I love learning from the land and going out and harvesting or being able to go hunting every year, it is a big thing for me. That helps to keep me feeling better about living in the city and the things that are happening,” said Sandy.
She's a member of the Chippewas of Nawash First Nation but grew up in Kitchener-Waterloo. Sandy has been living in Toronto for the past 12 years and knows that moving to such a big city can be quite isolating.
That’s why she says for others to seek out community, whether it's at powwows or at urban Indigenous community events, meeting other Indigenous people is essential.
“It's hard to leave your own community because all of your friends and your family's there, and they're all people who have an understanding of the same culture that we all come from, right? And so that's extremely important,” said Sandy.
She first came to the city to take Canadian history at the University of Toronto but feeling like an outsider was really disheartening. Sandy would often feel like the only Indigenous person in some of her courses and that her peers and instructors would lean on her to know Indigenous history.
And learning her own family history was a heavy burden to bear.
“The hard part about that was learning more about colonization and what happened to our communities and learning more about residential school and what happened to my own grandmother and my dad and all of that stuff,” said Sandy. “It became really hard.”
She would eventually drop out and says the cost of living was a contributing factor. Sandy says a misconception in Canadian society is that Indigenous education is all covered. But the reality is that many First Nations funding is highly competitive and some students struggle to get funding.
But her path allowed her to work in more community outreach roles and set her on her path now. And she credits all of her failures for the skills she developed.
“You can go through those times when things aren't great and you're not doing what you love, but as long as you work hard and you keep going, and you have that goal in mind, you'll get there,” said Sandy.
She worked at the Toronto Zoo and despite things not ending well, Sandy got to hear first hand stories of turtles and reptiles from community elders. She also worked in community outreach to bring seniors and elders to learn more about museums and other collections.
And Sandy also worked with First Story Toronto to develop an app that showcased Indigenous history and locations throughout the city.
“As I was learning these stories from elders and seeing how much science there was in our knowledge, I got really inspired to continue doing this work and it's something that I've been really passionate about sharing with others,” said Sandy.
She hopes her story shows young people that education isn’t always linear and alot can be gained from listening to community and elders. Sandy said meeting connections and networking at the university was valuable too.
Sandy felt talking to a therapist has been essential for her mental health and would like to encourage others to try it because of intergenerational trauma. For First Nations people with Status, or Inuit land claim beneficiaries, therapy sessions are covered by the Non-Insured Health benefits plan.
“I never used to realize how my grandmother going to residential school and then my dad going to Indian day schools has impacted me. But now that I've gone through all of this and I'm learning more about it, I see those effects and it's important for the future health of my family, too, for me to take care of that stuff,” said Sandy.
Thanks to Oscar Baker III for authoring this blog post.
Future Pathways Fireside Chats are a project of TakingITGlobal's Connected North Program.
Funding is generously provided by the RBC Foundation in support of RBC Future Launch, and the Government of Canada's Supports for Student Learning program.