Learning the Language of Reconnection: Nicole Perron Becomes an Educator for her Community
“The whole point of moving away… was to come back and be a good role model in our community. I hope that that's something that I can continue to strive for, and stay connected to our lands and enjoy them just as our elders did,” shares Nicole Perron. She grew up in Valley View, Alberta and now lives in her hometown of Fort Providence.
In 2015, she was part of a cohort in the University of Victoria’s Indigenous language revitalization program to learn her language. For two and a half years, she studied as part of the pilot program. “We were pretty much trailblazers,” she recalls. Program graduates were offered the option to go to the Victoria campus for the Bachelor of Education Program to learn to be language teachers, practicing instructional methods. Of the 13 language revitalization graduates, four chose to continue on and graduate with degrees.
Beyond learning the language, the program offered Perron an opportunity to regain her identity, understand her roots and connect with elders. Growing up in Valley View, those were pieces that were missing for her. “I'm connected with so many people just because of the language and it's amazing,” she beams.
Until she did the language program, she never really thought about teaching. When they were asked to create an educational philosophy, she realized that she had always been a teacher, influencing the lives of her two younger sisters. Perron found out about the program through her school principal who had always been an important adult in her life.
“It was kind of rough in the beginning because I was growing out of my comfort zone. That's really the only way to grow and we always are lifelong learners. That's when my journey began, and I knew where I wanted to be and everything just came naturally,” she recalls.
Her advice for Indigenous students leaving their home communities to pursue their education is to go for it, even though she knows it is scary. Packing up her family, it was one of the biggest leaps they had ever taken but she’s glad they did it together. “There's nothing to lose, there's definitely everything to gain and you'll find yourself… I wouldn't have it any other way. I'm definitely honoured to be on the path that I'm on, to come home and be an educator,... Take that leap and have faith that everything will work out,” she encourages.
When she faced obstacles going to school, Perron did so with her family. She graduated with her degree and her daughter graduated from high school in the area. Their unity as a family helped them push past challenges. “We always reminded ourselves that we're always home when we’re together. It was definitely not easy. But being a family unit was probably one of the strongest, most powerful things that helped us overcome most everything,” she remembers.
If she could give a message to her younger self, it would be that mistakes are made when you are growing and to be less hard on herself. Adults in her life supported and affirmed her and shared their hopes for her future, and she wishes she could tell herself in that same spirit of affirmation, “You're always going to be growing and as long as you strive to do better and know better, then you can be better.”
To manage her mental health and wellbeing, Perron stays connected with her language sisters, her elders, mentors and all the people who have guided her. Being on the land and sitting by the fire is a therapeutic experience she missed when she was in Victoria. “That's definitely one of the things that grounds me and just really reminds me of who I am and why I started this journey and the role that I play in our community,” she shares. She likes to visit and stay connected to who she and her community are as people.
Her inspiration in the work she does is her daughter. Learning cultural teachings that make her people who they are as part of the language program, she learned that her community’s children are sacred. “Everything that I've ever done, from the day she was born moving forward and even still to this day, is for her. She is going to be part of the future generation and we were always taught that that's the most important thing. One day, when we're gone, we will see we raised good people with good hearts that learned to be mindful of others and of themselves and of their surroundings,” she relays.
As a parent, she loves to watch her child grow, overcome obstacles and has learned she has to trust her own heart and let her daughter make her own choice and have her own voice. Growing up, Perron didn’t have that herself. “She has a powerful voice, she deserves to use it,” she smiles. She also loves seeing Indigenous youth going off to post secondary and feels happy for them and their journey, wishing them the best.
The whole point of moving away was to come back and be a good role model in her community. It’s something that Nicole Perron continues to strive for, staying connected to her lands and enjoying them just as her elders did. After growing up far from home, she’s back in Fort Providence and she brought with her the ability to teach her language and an open heart. Inspired by her daughter, she’s giving her everything she wished she had growing up, and the knowledge that whenever they are together, they are home and can overcome everything.
Thanks to Alison Tedford Seaweed for authoring this article.
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.