Salena Starling

Speaking out for Truth and Reconciliation: Salena Starling Shines with Hope on Stage

“Getting to teach about truth and reconciliation through my own journey is definitely my pride and joy and my passion,” shares Salena Starling. She is Swampy Cree and lives in Winnipeg, Manitoba where she grew up and now works as a workshop facilitator and co-founder at the Community of Big Hearts. With a story to tell, she’s making a difference.

At the age of four, she was placed in foster care in what was a traumatic experience. She later moved in with her auntie and was able to be with her siblings. As a public speaker, she shares about her experiences in the foster system and the social history of Indigenous people, how her story reflects how Canada has hurt her and her people as part of truth and reconciliation.

When she lived with her biological mother, Starling saw how the system had hurt her. Both of her parents were addicts, struggling with alcohol and drugs. Her older sister turned to substances as well and Starling grew up seeing everyone around her turning to addiction. “It was definitely heartbreaking because I saw how that could have been my life and that could have been my story. Even though I was a child in foster care, I was still surrounded by everyone who fell under the systematic genocide,” she explains. Her sister was trafficked in Winnipeg and went missing a number of times. Now Starling teaches the world about what her family has been through.

Speaking out didn’t always come easy to her. As a preteen starting out public speaking, she was fearful. ”When I was scared, I always thought about the people that influenced me, the people that were brave enough to tell their story,” she remembers. Seeing someone share their story when she was a young person, speaking with openness and vulnerability, Starling was influenced in the way she wanted to change the world.

That experience helped her see the power in sharing her story and the impact it could make.  “My biggest goal, and my biggest hope is that when I talk to iIdigenous youth that they'll want to spread their story as well,” she continues. It’s not just about the deep losses, it’s also about the wins for Starling.

“I love hearing a great success story from an Indigenous person. I know the hardships I've gone through and seeing where I am today is definitely a success story,” she reflects. She is grateful to have a platform to share about her experiences so other Indigenous youth can, too.

Illustration by Shaikara David

Starling met Stu Starkey, the previous owner of the company she has joined to lead, when she was speaking at an event. She started doing workshops to share her story, educate about how Canada can improve in its journey towards truth and Reconciliation and about murdered and missing Indigenous relatives. She’s excited about the work they are doing together at Community of Big Hearts and what could come next.

"We are creating something that is going to be so powerful and meaningful to Canada because right now we are talking to people all across Canada about the journey of an Indigenous woman. Having someone that was there, and that really believed in what I had to talk about and believed in what my story was, created a whole company for us," Starling confides.

"Something that I've learned recently is that Indigenous knowledge is going to change the world. …Our history, our culture and our knowledge is so powerful."

Learning from the stories other people share shapes what Starling offers to the world. "For myself, lived experiences are the best education possible. So on a daily basis, I educate myself learning online through people… education is a daily thing for me," she elaborates. 

She’s inspired by the power of Indigenous knowledge and the way it can shift the perspective of the world about Indigenous people. Knowing that her story has made an impact gives Starling a reason to keep going, even when the work she does is tough. “Sometimes I have really bad days, and I don't want to talk about the hurt that I go through. But knowing that I can change one person's life, and that I will impact them on their journey, it's my favourite thing that could ever happen… changing someone's life and making a difference,” she beams. 

Her hope for the future is to see change in Canada in the child welfare system and the way missing and murdered Indigenous women are cared for.  “I don't want anyone ever to feel the way I felt in this child welfare system… being able to make that small difference for the younger generation is something that I really hope I could do,” she muses aloud. 

The message she would like to share with Indigenous youth is "have your story and always keep it authentic to yourself. No matter what, always have a story to come back to because you will succeed in life, you will get somewhere. You are going to be an incredible person in whatever industry you go into. But whenever you get there, whenever you get to achieve your dream, always remember where you came from and the authentic person that you will continue to live and be."

Teaching about truth and reconciliation through her own journey is Salena Starling’s pride, joy and passion. With a story to tell and as a workshop facilitator and co-founder at the Community of Big Hearts, she’s making a difference for the next generation. Once afraid to speak on stage, it’s where she goes to shine, educating Canadians while bringing hope to Indigenous youth and comfort that their stories matter, too.

Thanks to Alison Tedford Seaweed for authoring this article.

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Key Parts

  • Career
  • Identity
    First Nations
  • Province/Territory
  • Date
    July 21, 2023
  • Discussion Guide
    create to learn discuss

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