Taking Up Space and Finding: Mitch Holmes Environmental Studies
Environmental Studies grad Mitch Holmes went to school to learn about the land and got a lesson about why it’s so important to take up space. He lives in Toronto and works as a project coordinator with TakingItGlobal. A Mohawk man and member of the Turtle clan, he grew up in Sarnia raised by a mom who is from Six Nations.
At TakingItGlobal, Holmes works on the Youth Leadership Fund, a grant program for Indigenous youth, 15 to 35, to apply for entrepreneurial grants, project grants, travel grants, to go to leadership, training and conferences. He also works on the Future Pathways project through the Connected North program as well as Whose Land, a web-based app that uses GIS technology to assist users in identifying Indigenous Nations, territories, and Indigenous communities across Canada.
When he graduated from York University’s Environmental Studies program, a friend told him about a job being available to do research for an app, which turned out to be Whose Land. He came on as an intern for the summer and started taking on a range of projects within the organization.
The educational path that got him here has been unique. Holmes graduated high school in 2007 and went to Fan Rock College in London to become a mechanical engineering technician. He went to school during the recession in 2008 and by the time he graduated, there was no work available in his field. He worked odd jobs in construction for several years before deciding to go back to school for environmental studies at York University in a four year program focusing on environmental management,
He found the experience challenging from an intercultural perspective.
“There wasn't a lot of indigenous students in my program. There was maybe one other one. A lot of times when they talked about land, it was a very colonial aspect of what land is and the definition of land. There were a few teachers that respected treaties, but it was a very colonial education. I definitely was able to turn it into something great.”
Holmes also faced financial barriers, struggling with navigating the application process, budgeting to pay for his tuition, rent, groceries and other expenses. “In school, they don't teach you how to budget anything. You're a new kid getting a loan from somewhere and you're getting large sums of money right up front there's people telling you to get credit cards,” he remembers.
Forming social connections was hard because he was so shy and didn’t go to the Indigenous student centre right away to find community. “I'm a white passing Indigenous person. I knew a lot of people that did go and was friends with them, but I didn't feel like it was my place at the time to take up that space. I didn't reach out, and I didn't involve myself in those spaces, and it's something that I wish I had done and something that I always encourage students to do now that I know what it's like not to,” Holmes reflects.
His advice to youth considering leaving their community for work or school is thoughtful. “First off, it's no pressure to leave your community. If you want to stay in your community and work there, that's totally fine. You can stay there, you can provide for your community,” he explains.
“There's a lot of pressure nowadays to leave your community and not return. If you want to leave your community, go for it. If you don't, don't feel like you have to.”
Holmes recommends doing your research about where you are going, meet people, talk to them about what the program is like, what the school is like, what the city is like and find resources online. “The most important thing, I think, is building relationships and engaging with people on campus and in the community. There's a lot of community spaces that are outside of the postsecondary sphere in towns that you can go to friendship centers, community centers, and things like that. Reach out to people, make relationships and engage with the overall community,” he suggests.
Holmes suggests that because it’s the advice he wished he had received.
“I wish somebody would've told me was to get involved with things that are happening at school and in the community don't be so shy. It's okay to fail, it's okay to be awkward, social anxiety is real and it's something that you're going to deal with no matter what you do.”
“You just have to go for it and put yourself in those uncomfortable positions. Eventually, your body will adapt and get comfortable. It might take a long time, but eventually you'll get there. I wish somebody would've pushed me really to engage more with the school community and with my own community,” he says.
These days, he’s inspired by music, art and trying to be the best version of himself that he can be, striving towards continual self-improvement daily. Over the pandemic, he immersed himself in arts, music and creativity. “If you'll notice with all the news that's happening on social media, the one thing that's a constant is people creating art. When all this is over, we'll look back on this time and be like, ‘it's art that got us through, it's people creating and people reaching out to one another and creating new relationships’,” he expresses.
After spending time learning about the land, Holmes found the place he belongs and the work that matters most to him. He learned how to take up space and document place, with respect for the past and hope for the future. In a time of isolation, Holmes reached out and created community for himself through art.
Special thanks to Alison Tedford Seaweed for authoring this blog post.
Future Pathways Fireside Chats are a project of TakingITGlobal's Connected North Program.
Funding is generously provided by the RBC Foundation in support of RBC Future Launch, and the Government of Canada's Supports for Student Learning program.