Caley Anderson

Social Work While Social Distancing: Caley Anderson's Pandemic Boredom Gets Her Back To School

A post secondary application sent during pandemic boredom opened a new chapter in Caley Anderson’s life. A Cree and South Sudanese woman, Anderson was born and raised in Ottawa, Ontario. She has  moved to Regina to study Indigenous social work at First Nations University of Canada, a field she picked because she wanted to work with kids on the autism spectrum. She wasn’t sure if she would get in but looking at the programs, Indigenous social work spoke to her the most. She wanted to work on reserve and she remembered how much she appreciated social workers as a child. Her acceptance arrived within days and a new journey began.

Before university, her education experience had her switching schools often and then going to a very rich school where she didn’t feel like she fit in. Anderson dreaded going to school until she became motivated to finish it so she could graduate. Her grandmother held her accountable and she took a bridging program at a college in Ottawa. Because of her cross enrollment, she ended up having two graduations and won three awards. Algonquin College’s Indigenous Studies program was her next stop for a one year program and she found the essays tiresome. She took a year off before trying school again.

Losing family members has been one of her biggest obstacles Anderson has encountered along the way. After losing a grandparent, she just wanted to spend time with family on the reserve and to retreat from school. Her interactions with teachers left her feeling stupid and she played sports like rugby to deal with the stress. Going to school through family struggles was tough. “There's everything happening around you. You're like, ‘this does not feel like it's the most important thing to be doing.’ But we just have to push through it because we all have to do school. It sucks, but you need your diploma to do things,” she lamented.

Illustration by Shaikara David

If she could give her younger self a message it would be that it does get better after high school. “High school at the time feels like it's everything, you have to do the best or if you're not doing as well as you hoped, it sucks, the world is ending.  But honestly, just keep pushing through, finish it, try to stay as positive as you can when it comes to school, even though it will feel like it's very hard and you can't do it. You'll be happy with the decisions that you've made to continue in school,” Anderson elaborates. Now, Anderson loves school.

To maintain her mental wellness during tough times, she leans  on friends, gets outside, spends time on the land and out  walking. “Outside, you feel so much better. The fresh air, it's just so good for you,” Anderson advises. Something else she loves to do that brings her joy is beading, making earrings and bigger pieces. She used to make medallions, bracelets, barrettes and matching jewelry sets. Her grandmother, a designer, would give her patterns and her home looked like a beadwork store.

For inspiration, Anderson looks to the strong women in her life, like her sister, her grandma  and her mom who raised her as a single mom.  Her grandma is talented and kind and always amazes. She loves her aunties, too and her three brothers  are her best friends.

Thinking of those important relationships, her advice to youth is, “Talk to people. Tell people how you're feeling… Make sure to connect with people, especially elders or knowledge keepers in your community. They're there for you always, even if you don't really know them. Just connect with others. You'll feel so much better."

A moment of boredom got Caley Anderson back to school, even though her learning experiences growing up were tough. Remembering the social workers she knew as a child, she was inspired to give school another chance, and to give herself another chance to be a student and learn and grow. Inspired by the strong women in her family and the people who love her, she’s on a path towards a new future, carrying all the lessons she’s learned along the way (and some beautiful beadwork!) to First Nations University.  

Thanks to Alison Tedford Seaweed for authoring this article.

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Key Parts

  • Career
  • Identity
    First Nations
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  • Date
    October 20, 2023
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