Anything Dani Lanouette does is inspired by Indigenous youth, and part of her own experience. Lanouette is Algonquin and Ojibway, and was born and raised in Ottawa, ON, where she currently resides. She also identifies as a two-spirited woman.
She works for the 4Rs Youth Movement as the special projects assistant, doing things such as communications, finance, and helps out wherever needed. She says a lot of it includes going into communities where they have international learning and their teams.
When asked what motivated her to get into this career path, Lanouette says she likes to joke that she went in out of pettiness.
“When I was in high school, I had a guidance counselor tell me that I wasn’t university material. And so she didn’t allow me to go into the courses that I wanted to, to go to university,” said Lanouette.
“I dealt with a lot of racism and a lot of stereotypes placed on me when I was around that age. And so I do what I do because I didn’t have too many people I could look up to when I was growing up.”
She said she had one youth program that was really great, but felt she had aged out of it once she turned 18.
That’s why making sure there are spaces for Indigenous youth that are accessible and inclusive are important to her, especially ones that don’t have an age out policy.
“When you turn 18, sometimes you’re considered not a youth anymore, which is so ridiculous to me. The day before you turn 18 and the day after you’re still the same person. And so you still need those same resources,” said Lanouette.
Even though she’s stayed in the same city, Lanouette says for students leaving their communities to pursue and education and career it’s important for them to always look into the resources available to them.
When she was a student at Algonquin College, she worked at the Indigenous Centre where one of her jobs was to make sure they were keeping their community resources board up to date.
“Always look into the resources that are available to you. And don’t be afraid to take up space, because even when you just move somewhere, that’s your community, and you have every right to access that space there,” said Lanouette.
Though she is in an accomplished career, Lanouette has also had to deal with her own obstacles in her journey.
Racism and stereotypes was something she dealt with a lot, and says even though she went to a very multi-cultural school there was a lot of ignorance and misinformation still there, which made graduating high school a challenge in itself.
But she did, and took a gap year after her program was cancelled due to low enrollment. She says when she did enter college, it was very new and she wasn’t prepared for it.
“I ended up doing really well and having a great two years at Algonquin. But there were things during that time that happened that led to a lot of trauma,” said Lanouette.
To help her get through all this was her teacher, who supported Lanouette and helped her as much as she could.
Lanouette also had to drop out of university after being harassed by another student and not a lot being done to ensure her safety.
“That was probably the most difficult thing I’ve been through so far was making that decision to drop out and put my own mental health first,” said Lanouette.
“I think just being able to reach out to family and know that I had folks who were able to support me, but also accessing mental health services was really helpful and really necessary for me.”
And if there were any advice she could give to her younger self, it would be to not worry about things so much.
“Be prepared in a smart way, but also don’t worry so much. Things work out how they need to, and there’s always going to be ways to fix things along the way if you need to.”
Special thanks to Jasmine Kabatay for authoring this article.
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