Ashley Komangaapik Rose Cummings is one of 18 young people to currently sit on the Prime Minister of Canada’s Youth Council, offering advice to the Prime Minister on issues that affect young people. Born in Pangnirtung, Nunavut, Ashley has traversed the entire country over her young life, living in Nova Scotia, Quebec, New Brunswick and now the Yukon. She has also traveled as far as Kangerlussuaq, GL to Nome, AK via the Northwest Passage. Her travels inspire Ashley to grab opportunities when they come.
“I think it comes from being a very open person,” she muses. “I’ve always really liked trying to seize these different opportunities when the come round about. Even if sometimes it feels a little bit scary.”
As well as living in many places, Ashley has never been afraid to try her hand at different work experiences. She currently works for the Arctic Institute of Community-Based Research as an Indigenous research assistant. Her social work has helped students adjust to university life at Mount Allison, and people with developmental disabilities in a group home; plus, she ran workshops for Inuit and Innu inmates of the Dorchester Penitentiary in New Brunswick, reconnecting them to the language, drumming, dancing, sewing, and singing of their cultural heritage. She has even worked cruise tours of the Northwest Passage. “It was amazing to show people from all over the world the different places I consider home.”
Despite the diversity of her experiences, there is clearly a common theme of community — especially Indigenous community — running through her work. This likely stems from Ashley’s strong connections to both sides of her family. “My dad’s from Nova Scotia, my mom’s from Nunavut. I’m very grateful for the connection that I’ve had despite all of my moves. All of my family is super supportive and always super present. I grew up spending a lot of time with my grandma when I lived in Pangnirtung, and a lot of time playing outside and we always liked going camping and going fishing. It was definitely a lot of time spent on the land and with other family members. And then in Nova Scotia, it was similar with a lot of family around, though it definitely felt more school-oriented. I also spent a lot of time with my grandfather there and my great aunts and uncles. So I feel really grateful that a lot of the Elders in my life have spent a lot of time helping me grow.”
Those links to her family, and the “informal teachings” she gained from them, helped Ashley make the difficult decision to leave her formal university studies before they were finished. “After two and a half years, I decided I didn’t want to spend time on that at the moment….[I wanted to] continue working on Indigenous, Inuk knowledge, or attend more meetings with the Prime Minister’s Youth Council.” Ashley believes she will return to university when the time is right for her, but for now she wants to focus on “getting the teachings in a very experiential way, rather than from a book.”
Ashley knows that most people don’t move around as much as she did, but she does encourage Indigenous youth especially to explore the world beyond their own community, even if only for a short time. “It’s amazing because you get to learn about other cultures, you get to interact with other Indigenous folks…My closest friends [at university] were from all over the world, and I had an Indigenous student support group that I attended. I got to learn from folks that were Mi’kmaq, Maliseet, and Ojibwe. It was amazing to see how different, but how similar we are in some of our teachings or in some of our stories.”
For Ashley, taking leaps and seizing opportunities is hard but the benefits can be extraordinary. “I’ve done a lot of growing and a lot of skill building in my life just from making myself uncomfortable...[Leaving home can be] really lonely sometimes, but I find the growth I’ve had from that outweighs all of the hardship.”
How do you find opportunities? For Ashley, the answer comes from taking advantage of what is in front of you and being open. Whether it is joining the choir in her Inuksuk High School, which meant trips to Southern Canada to sing, or even just speaking to fellow travellers in an airport:
“I was on my way to the Arctic Inspiration Prize in Ottawa….I was wearing a sealskin headband and a gentleman came up to me and said, ‘Hey, that’s ringed seal, right?’ I said, ‘Yeah, it is.’ And then we started chatting. I told him I was from Nunavut and he told me he works for a cruise company, and by the end of the conversation he said, ‘Do you want to work for us?’ He was an ornithologist who works for Hurtigruten [a Norwegian cruise line]. That definitely felt like a moment where I was like, ‘OK, things aren’t always linear!’”
Ashley knows that adventures like these need to be tempered by attention to grounding and to awareness of mental health and well being. “I’ve always been able to speak to counsellors and Kids Help Phone was a big part of it, too, especially when I was living in Nunavut and didn’t have access to mental health workers. It’s a very important thing that I wish more kids would get into speaking to professionals, even though sometimes it’s scary...But the gain is definitely worth it.”
And remember, “Things aren’t always forever. Things can be made better, especially when you are being kind to yourself, you’re grounding yourself, and you’re surrounding yourself with good, kind people.”
Special thanks to Jessica Dee Humphreys 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.