Karlii Beaulieu

Reaching Back into the System: Karlii Beaulieu Shares Her Lived Experience

“Living my life in the system was what motivated me,” Karlii Beaulieu confides. She is from Sandy Bay First Nation and lives in Manitoba. She is Ojibwe and her spirit name is White Cloud. She got her start working in culinary arts after graduating but realized she didn’t want to own her own restaurant. For her, it was a place to learn life skills like nutrition. Through catering, she started to meet MLAs and MPs and was invited to galas after sharing about her experiences in child welfare through a book. At those events, she met the people she now does business with. 

These days, Beaulieu has a vision to build a national authority for children and families that can distribute funds to appropriate agencies. She would also like to see movement away from segregation in the systems. The timeline she envisions all this unfolding is over the next decade. 

She entered the system young when a social worker was unable to support her mother in being able to engage the way she needed to after Beaulieu’s father passed away. In rural Manitoba, there were few resources available to support her and rampant unconscious bias got in the way. 

As a child in the system, she knew that people with lived experience would understand what she was going through and she wants to be the grownup she needed. The hiring policies of the organization where she works requires lived experience for that reason, whether that be of life in foster care, kinship adoption, parental loss or some other relevant experience. “Young people need that lived experience, that empathy, that being able to put yourself in their shoes. Understanding is what really motivates me to be in this career path,” she explains.

Inspired by her boss who was a former child in care who has a Master’s degree in social work, Beaulieu is pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in social work herself. She hopes to later pursue graduate studies in business. Seeing someone else who came through the system achieve something like that has been motivating.

Illustration by Shaikara David

Her advice for young Indigenous people that want to pursue education is “think about something that makes you passionate, something that makes you really go, ‘I would do that for free.’” Beaulieu spends a lot of her time volunteering because she’s so passionate about what she does. “When you're pursuing something, you just need to think about ‘why am I doing this?... would I do this for free when I come back tomorrow?’”she continues. 

"think about something that makes you passionate, something that makes you really go, ‘I would do that for free.’"

The biggest obstacle Beaulieu faced along the way was herself. She struggles with gender dysphoria, something that intensifies with seasonal depression. Understanding herself through a college course as part of her child and youth care practice certificate program increased her self awareness significantly. The intent was to ensure she didn’t project her own traumas onto children in her care. 

The transformation that came from that self-awareness was pronounced. “I burned bridges. I saw value in burning bridges, but now it's like, some bridges can be spared and rebuilt later, or even improved later,” she reflects. What has helped her overcome barriers has been reminding herself that thoughts aren’t facts. 

If she could give advice to her younger self it would be in the form of a talk about a piece of clothing she didn’t want to wear because of how it would look on her as a trans female before having an operation. She delayed her surgery due to some scary stories that she heard. Beaulieu would tell her younger self, “You're not doing it for anyone else except for yourself. Things can only get better after it happens.”

Living her life in the system was what motivated Karlii Beaulieu and now she’s telling her story and helping youth just like her.  She started in the kitchen and now she’s cooking up solutions as she works towards her Bachelors degree in social work. Driven by empathy and informed by experience, she’s got what she needs to succeed and to support others in doing the same. 

Thanks to Alison Tedford Seaweed for authoring this article.

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Key Parts

  • Career
  • Identity
    First Nations
  • Province/Territory
  • Date
    July 8, 2024
  • Post Secondary Institutions
    No PSI found.
  • Discussion Guide
    create to learn discuss

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