Community Care and Education: Learning to Care for Each Other and Ourselves
“I wish someone had told me back when I was in high school that education is key,” says Connie Contstant. She is from Deh Gáh Got'îê First Nation near Fort Providence, Northwest Territory and she now works as a community health representative for Alberta Health Services in Edmonton, Alberta. When she did this work in her home community, she did things like checking for lice, working with seniors, and providing support in a prenatal program. Constant describes the work that she does as outreach work and she works with people who have addictions or who have mental health challenges.
Sometimes she thinks about how she could have been a registered nurse if she had stayed in school instead of looking for work right away. “I haven't really thought about going back to school but like they say, it's never too late. I have a son to take care of, so maybe in the future,” she dreams aloud. For now, she’s not ready to go back to school, but that doesn’t mean she’s stopped learning and growing.
She got to where she is with her career through informal education and on the job training. Not all learning happens in a classroom and leads to a degree. “In healthcare, every day is learning,” she explains, reflecting on her six over years of learning as she goes and further professionalizing by taking online courses through her employer to learn things like basic resuscitation.
Contstant chose a different path for herself, but encourages youth who are thinking about leaving their home community to pursue their education so they can get ahead to do so, recognizing how much competition is out there for good jobs. “Education is key, that'll help you… become a great leader,” she explains.
Being a community health representative can be a challenging job and she has to take care of herself outside of her work to manage the stress. “Walking into the job can be hit or miss, because you never know what you're walking into. Some homes can be brutal at times and sometimes there's a lot of addictions and drug use with children involved,” she explains, thinking about the situations she’s encountered and what made them so tough. It can be heartbreaking, but she has to find ways not to let it get to her.
She talks things over with coworkers to process her experiences so she can leave work with a clear head and not bring the troubles of the day home with her to her family. Contstant is mindful of the scope of her role and that she’s part of a bigger team that supports people. She understands that there are other people who are responsible for providing care outside of her role’s scope and she doesn’t have to save everyone all on her own.
Contstant finds the work very rewarding, but outside of her work day, she has a lot on the go and that’s what she prefers. She does a lot of outdoor activity, getting up and staying motivated instead of lounging in front of the tv. Contstant doesn’t want to feel sorry for herself even when life gets challenging, so she goes walking, running and recently started mountain biking, and also hiking the mountains in Canmore and Jasper. She also likes to give back by volunteering at her son's school in community hockey. Contstant keeps herself busy and she likes it that way.
She inspired by people who go off and get their education to find rewarding jobs, picking up leadership skills. Contstant thinks about how you don’t always know what someone leaves their community to go to school for, but then they come back and take on a new role. “It’s very rewarding for them because They are the future, and so are we,” she says.
Contstant reflects on the opportunity to reach youth through her fireside chat and sharing her story and advice. She expresses her best wishes thinking about the impact that could be made on today’s youth. “I just hope that you guys have some very good outcomes and feedback and continue to recognize Aboriginal people across Canada in keeping their education going and finding funding and not letting them give up on life, especially career wise,” she continues.
Connie Contstant is a productive member of her community, in her role as community health representative with Alberta Health Services and in another important role: being mom. While watching the families she serves struggle can be hard, she is always learning ways to help take care of them, and also take care of herself in the process. The challenges her clients face make an impact on her, and she hopes to make an impact on Indigenous youth in Canada by sharing her story. She might not have known in high school how important education is, but she can pay it forward by sharing that with the next generation so they can make their own choices.
Thanks to Alison Tedford Seaweed for authoring this article.
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.