Karalyn Menicoche is a Class of 2020 graduate of Carleton University’s Political Science and Indigenous Studies programs. She is from Fort Providence, Northwest Territories, a small community of 900 mostly Dene people like herself, as well as some Métis and non-Indigenous residents. She is living back in Fort Providence with her young son, after living in Ottawa completing her studies for the past three years.
Karalyn grew up learning very little about her people’s past. Even in her local public school, she was not taught much about colonization, the forced assimilation of Indigenous people or residential schools, despite the fact that one of these notorious schools was located right in Fort Providence. The school has since been renamed Deh Gáh to reflect the local language as well as the building’s physical position in the community (Deh Gáh means “by the river”). Karalyn supports this decision as a sign of the community’s reclaiming that space. “In our language we renamed it, so it’s like reclaiming and regaining that recognition of where the school is situated.”
As a teen, Karalyn took courses at her local college to round our her education. “I had to upgrade because of the level of education that seemed to be lacking here at the school in our community.” From there, Karalyn worked for a few years in Yellowknife, gaining professional experience and “a lot of self-esteem”, before realizing that she needed even more education to support her ambitions. “[I realized] you need higher education in order to get those big prominent jobs.”
Karalyn and her newborn baby boy headed off to Ontario so she could attend university. There, they discovered the rich community at the campus Indigenous centre. “I created a lot of friendships and bonding between other nations.”
When she first arrived at university, Karalyn wasn’t interested in taking Indigenous Studies. “I’d see Indigenous Studies classes [and say to myself], ‘No, I’m not going to take that.’ Almost like a mentality of Indigenous know-it-all.” But in her second year, when she finally did attend an Indigenous Studies class, she said, “Oh my goodness, talk about an eye opener! I remember some of the reading I did on the colonization and sterilization of Indigenous women. I remember one evening after putting the baby to sleep, I started on my readings… and I felt sick to my stomach.”
Karalyn wishes she and other young people were made more aware of the treatment Indigenous people have received. “With our people I wish [when I was younger] that I knew more of the impacts of the first contact and how colonization and assimilation took within Indigenous people. Everything was so colonized where it was like, ‘Christopher Columbus discovered Canada,’ but it’s just like, ‘No, I think we were already here.’ So I wish I had more understanding and more knowledge about that because it’s just we’re in a new time of recognizing and correcting a lot of that false knowledge and what was taught in school.”
Karalyn now wants to bring her newfound knowledge of her Indigenous heritage to the larger political arena with her political science degree. “I grew up with a father that was always in a leadership role. So the thing I express is that I grew up around a lot of politics… my father brought it home to the dinner table and was always expressing how could we get our people better? How could we be self-sustaining, maybe self-governing ourselves through cultural practices?”
Her university studies focused on weaving Dene traditions into existing governing systems. “I proposed a lot of that knowledge and my interests to the professors, and I asked them if I was able to… focus on our Treaty 11 and while comparing it to political theorists’ thoughts, but twisting it and adding ours that is mostly oral and visual?”
Through this process, Karalyn “was able to reclaim a lot of my personal power and my personal knowledge from our people,” and uncover “self-recognition, as well. How I want to empower myself, but I’m also a role model to my young child. It also made me realize how resilient we are. It honestly did make me walk with my head a little higher.”
Having graduated university, Karalyn is now back in Fort Providence and ready to take on the next phase of her life. “Recently, having to be home and quiet time at the house, sitting with my dad, I’m recollecting all the important things of who we are as Indigenous people, who we are and where we come from. The people, the power, the mass knowledge. That’s where I’m finding my inspiration lately. I’m really always encouraging anybody with these stories to start writing them down because a lot of our documents are undocumented. The importance of culture and regaining at heart who we are as Indigenous people. We try to help people, but we can’t force anything on people. It’s having to lead by example. We lead by example and show… you can’t change nobody.”
Special thanks to Jessica Dee Humphreys for authoring this blog post.
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