Many Hats and A Goalie Mask: Jenelle Manitowabi's Journey in Policing, Podcasting, and Playing Hockey
“Giving back to the community has been a part of who I am for a long time,” recalls Jenelle Manitowabi. The way she gives back has changed over time. A Lac Seul First Nation member, Manitowabi works with the University of Manitoba in the Indigenous community engagement office as an Assistant Events Manager.
At work, she helps the school find motivational speakers throughout the year within the faculty. On top of her job, she’s studying criminology full time at Nipissing University in northern Ontario. It’s not where she thought she would end up, but she loves what she does every day.
After high school, she wanted to study the sciences, fascinated by chemistry and biology and aspiring to practice biochemical engineering like that route. In grade 12, she didn't end up meeting the requisites and decided to go play hockey for Sault College. She enjoyed the Police Foundations program and graduated during the pandemic.
Manitowabi got a job as an officer in her First Nation and she also worked in the local homeless shelter. The experiences she had inspired her to continue to pursue a career in criminal justice, but from a place of restorative justice instead of law enforcement. That decision led her back to class where she’s working hard to create a new path for herself.
Growing up playing sports, she had the opportunity to get to know and represent her community. In college, she coached goaltenders on a contract basis and also worked with the minor hockey league, loving working with the kids. “I was just so grateful for how much my community supported me growing up that I've always had that desire to pay it back and pay it forward for the next generations,” she smiles.
She started playing hockey young but didn’t enjoy it so she switched to gymnastics. Spending time with her brother who was always on the ice, she decided to give hockey another try. Being a player wasn’t something she loved but one day a goalie didn’t show up and she gave it a go. She really liked it and spent time with a goalie coach as her desire to be a goalie flourished.
As a hockey player, she didn’t face many obstacles and considered it to be more of a gateway, creating opportunities to travel to tournaments, meet people and get more perspective on how big and small the world is. She kept crossing paths with ambitious teammates and proving her work ethic to her coaches. Those coaches would recommend her for jobs and opportunities.
Moving away was an obstacle she faced, relocating for her education and her hockey career. The experience helped her in college because she knew what it was like to start over and build new relationships. What started off as a challenge became a benefit to her down the road (and down the ice).
Outside of school and work, Manitowabi has a podcast called Birchbox Girls. It happened organically at a time where she was having a lot of conversations with people in her life about their journeys. She got the idea to create an Indigenous podcast to share stories and with her next paycheck she bought a microphone. She started doing interviews when she could and focused on quality, getting the opportunity to have great conversations with people who inspire her.
When it comes to advice for Indigenous youth considering university, she suggests “make the most of every single opportunity that you're given.” Manitowabi encourages youth not to sell themselves short and to believe in themselves so they can learn from each experience. “Those experiences will help shape who you are,” she shares. Finding herself was a journey she went through in college as she learned to integrate her past experiences to her present path, creating more stability and strength for herself and cultivating self trust and confidence. “Don't be afraid to let people help you,” she adds.
If she could send a message to her younger self, it would be, “Don't push things aside and think that things will be better down the road. Just enjoy what they are right now.” Living in the moment was a scary prospect at times. She was so focused on getting through something to move onto the next thing that she realized she was missing out. Manitowabi remembers thinking about being proud of who she was at the time instead of focusing on how she would become someone she could be proud of. Her podcast helped her get over her imposter syndrome and put herself out there.
To keep her mental health in check, Manitowabi takes time for herself and creates the mental space she needs, especially if she’s making a decision. She weighs her options, evaluates benefits and negatives and makes decisions that are right for her. At one point, she had a summer job she found difficult and she realized it also wasn’t very important to her. She gave it up and went onto a job that was more meaningful for her, recognizing it wasn’t worth her mental health to struggle doing something that didn’t matter to her.
Giving back to the community has been a part of who Jenelle Manitowabi is for a long time. She didn’t end up where she expected but she loves what she gets to do. Creating her podcast and connecting with speakers, she facilitates storytelling from an Indigenous perspective. She’s rooted in a strong sense of knowing who she is and what she wants to do in the world. Through trial and error, she’s found a sport she loves, a career that fulfills her and the strength to believe in herself and share that with others.
Thanks to Alison Tedford Seaweed for authoring this article.
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