“If I had to sum up my story, it would be one of the spirited and whimsical, gutsy child that lost their spirits and how they found it in the city.“ Dana Marlatt, from Port Union, Ontario, the child of a German mother and a Painted Feather Woodland Metis father spoke of their upbringing and how it got them where they are today.
From lemonade stands and babysitting to the restaurant industry and later to academia, Dana’s path led to advocacy, personal development, and lessons of following your passions and lateral moves towards fulfilment, but ultimately about balance. Dana burnt out at a startup and took time off to reflect.
“If you’re an innovative person, startups can be a really fun pathway for you, but ultimately I burnt out because I didn’t have any support or barriers around that growth. What became really important to me was to think about what my seven year old self would think was cool.”
Dana found joy in work at an animal hospital caring for animals, then paused again to heal from a concussion during the pandemic through offline informal learning opportunities they created for themselves, “I didn’t need to tell anyone or post it on Instagram. It was just for myself and it made all the difference and that’s how I found my spirit again.”
A new career evolution would follow at RBC as part of the Indigenous Peoples Development Program, a two-year program rotating work experience in the bank and in charity, providing diversity of thought and horizontal career movement.
“I’ve always been involved in a social impact movement. So at RBC that’s, #IamRemarkable, which is a workshop that teaches people to speak to their accomplishments and build confidence in the workplace.”
They are also an active member of the Royal Eagles, advocating to promote Two-Eyed Seeing and provide community for Indigenous People at RBC.
Dana learned to be a scrum master, which is like a project manager in tech and is going on to the Canadian Roots Exchange charity as part of their RBC rotation, which focuses on Indigenous research, policy and innovation. The non-linear path of Dana’s career brought its own valuable lessons.
“I’ve bounced around a lot, but it’s really led for such a great cross-cultural exposure from both my own heritage and then the different industries I’ve worked in and really having that always learning mindset.”
Dropping out of high school affected their confidence, creating a sense of powerlessness and a drive to heal from shame through learning. Dana remembers, “I’ve really tried to seek out opportunities where I would learn, and it would help get me in a spot where I could then advocate for others.” Hackathons and engineering conferences taught Dana event planning, marketing and other skills.
“Don’t let formal education deter you because sometimes there are socio-economic reasons why you can’t attend or maybe like a formal institutional learning environment isn’t for you. And that’s okay.”
Their advice to youth leaving their home community for university? “Find mentors, talk to your friends, find communities that have similar values or passions. What I realized is that we’re all so connected, especially as Indigenous people or as women or as just plain out human beings, it doesn’t matter. There’s always going to be a community there for you. You just have to look for it.”
Dana learned something else about the power of community. “What I really discovered is that their journey doesn’t have to feel or be alone. You’re allowed to have off moments. And in those moments, I would really call on you to let the people in your life hold up a mirror and show you how strong you are.”
You can get, but you can also give, Dana explains, “If your bucket’s full, you can let a friend take a cup out of that bucket for you and to help remind you how strong you really are. We’re all human, we’re all going through hard moments. And that’s the thing: they are moments. If you can’t pull yourself up, ask someone to help you, it’s okay to do that.”
“Just ask. The worst that will happen is someone will say no, and then that’s okay, because you can just ask someone else. It’s a wild ride to leave home, but it’s so exciting. I really just want people to use their passions and what they love and turn it into a purpose whenever they leave home, because that’s what makes it fun. Find a community out there that’s willing to support you when you’re going through hard times because people want to help.” “
Dana’s mentor Trevor’s words also helped, “Dana, I don’t know the last time someone said this to you, but you’re whole, and you are worthy.” Those words made a lasting impact, Dana shared, “I didn’t know at the time that it was going to create a really big snowball effect for me, but it did. As a society we’re taught to keep attaining and wanting to grow, and you forget that you’re already fine as is.”
“When you’re in a crisis moment or a low point, go back to the basics, breathe, drink water, feed yourself, move your body. That doesn’t have to be exercise. It can be dancing, it can be singing, but just something to let yourself have a release.”
Dana’s crisis management tips reflect Maslow’s hierarchy of needs but they also recommend traditional ways of knowing like mindfulness, “Just focus on the little things and be mindful. Really slow yourself down and it helps…if you’re feeling a little bit lacking in inspiration, be mindful, stop and like look at the sunsets at night or go smell a flower, go on a walk and don’t take your phone, listened to a new podcast and let yourself close your eyes and just listen. Meditate.”
Dana’s big message to the world is one of encouragement. “I just want everyone to know that they’re so accepted as they are and that they’re going to find their place in the world. Focus on your mind, your body, your soul, and your purpose and let those guide you and you’re set.”
The spirited and whimsical gutsy child that lost their spirits and found it in the city is a true Indigenous mentor and a light for others in their wisdom. Dana Marlatt has so much knowledge to share with the world and so much heart for Indigenous youth.
Special thanks to Alison Tedford Seaweed 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.