Mi'kmaq Justice Rising: Mairi Denny Learns to Stand up for Herself and Others
After watching injustices unfolding through the lens of social media, Mairi Denny has had enough and she wants to do something about it. That’s what keeps her working so hard in school: the dream of making a difference. “I want to be in a position of power so I can actually do something about it,” she muses, hoping to move beyond social media shares, petitions and donations, because she wants to do more.
She hopes a legal career will allow her to contribute to causes that matter to her in a more personally meaningful way. Mairi Denny is Mi’kmaq, a member of Eskasoni First Nation, from Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. An aspiring lawyer, she is attending Cape Breton University in her second year of a Bachelor of Arts program. Denny is working hard on her studies focusing on Mi’kmaq Studies and Political Science, driven by her passion to defend her rights and those of other marginalized groups.
When she thinks about leaders, mentors and people she looks up to, Denny is also inspired by NDP leader, Jagmeet Singh. She admires the way he represents the interests of Indigenous people and people of colour. Members of her own community who stand up for the rights of Mi’kmaq people also motivate her with the work they do.
That drive inside that pushes her to create impact in the world is the drive that took her straight from high school into post-secondary. She didn’t want to take a break, because she enjoys school and finds life feels better and more complete with a solid routine. While many of her friends ventured further afield and went to school far from home, she wanted to stay closer to her community as part of her personal journey. That’s why Denny is just 45 minutes from school, attending the Unama’ki College program, which is designed to be more supportive of Indigenous students like her.
All throughout her journey through elementary, middle and secondary school, Denny was heavily involved with extracurricular activities including dance, and swimming lessons as well as being active in her community. That brisk pace of life and heavy commitments pushed her to excel in school and get good grades, but it also, unfortunately, contributed to anxiety. All the weight on her shoulders to achieve, succeed and do her best both helped and hurt her along the way.
“When you have a busy schedule, it's so much pressure on you and everything just piles up,” she remembers. Looking back on her unmet need for balance growing up, she tries to find balance now in her schooling, social life, relationships and fitness so that she doesn’t put too much weight in one area of her life and create an unhealthy imbalance. “I just try to make equal time for all the things I love to do,” she continues.
While she’s only just begun beading, she’s already started a small business for herself in her community with her art that brings her joy. “I just love it. I love everything about it,” she smiles. The act of beading lets her practice her culture and she finds it therapeutic. While being artistic is something she can do for herself to feel good, she also sees the value of finding help through others.
If she could go back in time and tell her younger self anything, it would be to advocate for herself more to get the assistance she needed. “When I was younger, I hesitated to reach out for help. But now that I'm who I am today, I do utilize my resources, and I reach out for help. I would just tell my younger self to reach out for help more and use all the support systems you have,” she explains.
Part of that help that can make a difference can be in the form of financial support. She encourages Indigenous students to apply for scholarships, programs and opportunities to help make their dreams come true. “A lot of people don't apply for those scholarships, and they're out there. They really help in setting you up for success, especially in university. Apply for everything you see, and just hope for the best,” she advises. Denny benefited from scholarships and funding in pursuing her post-secondary education, even though she didn’t receive everything she applied for.
Leaning on support systems, Mairi Denny is reaching for her dreams. By standing up and advocating for herself, she is preparing to advocate for others in her dream career. Beyond social media shares, petitions and donations, there’s another way for her to be part of the change she wants to see in the world, on the other side of her university education. Powerless no more, she’s backed by community as she learns to stand up for community, an educated Mi’kmaq woman and lawyer of tomorrow.
Thanks to Alison Tedford Seaweed for authoring this article.
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