Breaking The Cycle and Healing The Circle: Tanya Necan's Journey in Indigenous Social Work
“I realized I can't keep living like this so I decided to break that cycle and heal the circle,” Tanya Necan recalls. She is from the Ojibwe nation of Saugeen and lives in Sioux Lookout, Ontario. Necan works as a mental health and addiction worker at the Nishnawbe Gamik Friendship Centre and also as a tenant support worker at Sioux Lookout Supportive Housing.
Necan had a difficult childhood and had to grow up fast. She experienced trauma before and after the birth of her child and had experiences where she spiraled out of control. Necan ended up in Sioux Lookout after her mother left her toxic relationship with her dad. After numerous attempts to leave, they finally got in a cab and went to Sioux Lookout, leaving for the last time, her mother swearing never to return. One of her sisters still lives there too, working for Sioux Lookout First Nations Health Authority, while her other sister lives in Winnipeg and works in utilities.
As she tried to build a life for herself, Necan went to cooking school but found the career wasn’t compatible with her parenting responsibilities. Later, she took the Native Child and Family Services Program, which is an Indigenous social work program, and going back to school took a lot of courage.
“I was really nervous. I felt like I wasn't going to be able to do it because the first time it was really hard and just with a whole new career change, it was really intimidating, but I managed to get through it. My teachers were really supportive ao that really, really helped me get through it,” she recounts. With her in the program were some students she had gone to school with and already knew.
Now that she’s done, she enjoys her work, and says for her the best part is “just helping people, especially just being able to talk to them, and having them not feel so judged. Because they know that I went through a lot of the exact same things as they did.” That familiarity and ability to relate means that they can be forthcoming with her about the challenges they face. “I get emotional talking about it. But it's really important to me,” she continues, reflecting on the way her clients share how relieved they are, and how they don’t feel so alone knowing she understands what they are going through.
“I just don't want anyone to go through what I went through because it's hard and it's lonely and there's times where you just want to give up.”
On a daily basis, she’s inspired by her childhood and her son. Knowing that at his age, she had nothing and knowing he has so much, she doesn’t want anyone else to feel alone and like they have nowhere to go. She looks forward to the future and what it might hold for him and people he knows. “What my son learns, he can teach the people that he crosses paths with in his life,” she smiles.
As for her relationship with her own parents, they’ve started working towards repairing their relationships. She found it really hard to go through things on her own and she held a lot of resentment towards them, not understanding that they were going through their own challenges while trying to raise her and her sisters. Necan has forgiven her parents and their guilt has lessened too.
If she could tell her younger self anything it would be “Just keep going. Life gets hard. Everything's going to be okay. Just pray and smudge because Creator’s always there.” Her advice for Indigenous youth leaving their community in search of opportunities for school and work is to do their research. She encourages youth to find out what resources and services are available where they would like to move. “Leaving the community is a big, big culture shock and that can really affect someone's mental health,” she explains, which is why she thinks it’s best to be prepared.
As difficult as life was, Necan found her way. “It's just amazing and I'm still here. I'm actually clean and sober and doing well. My son is healthy and happy,” she smiles, thinking about how far she’s come. These days she prays, smudges, spends time in nature and speaks positively to herself as she looks in the mirror. She does self-reflection work as she does her beading and even tried to get her son beading. He was too young and started eating the beads, so she plans to try again when he’s older.
“I never thought I would be seen as a role model or anything like that,” she exclaims, but in breaking the cycles in her family, she’s giving her son the kind of childhood she never had. In healing the circle, she’s creating space where others can heal, supporting residents of Sioux Lookout in maintaining housing and with their struggles with mental health and addiction. Tanya Necan couldn’t keep living the way she was, and now she’s found a way to come alive.
Thanks to Alison Tedford Seaweed for authoring this article.
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