Aboriginal Initiatives at Nipissing University
The purpose of the Aboriginal Initiatives Office at Nipissing University is to provide support to Aboriginal students, encouraging them to participate in and celebrate their culture and heritage.
Mair Greenfield started her career in the Corrections Worker program at Canadore College in North Bay, worked at a detention centre, and attended a bridging program at Nipissing University studying for an Honours Degree in Criminal Justice.
Her Algonquin forebears came from Eagle Village-Kipawa First Nation in Quebec and she was raised in North Bay. Her father is a teacher at Canadore and her mother is the founder of the Nipissing Transition House women’s shelter. Greenfield’s interest in criminal justice was sparked at an early age. She wanted to work in the Aboriginal Initiatives Office at Nipissing U, and took her degree there for that reason.
Working in corrections she saw the disproportionate number of Aboriginal youth who were in jail. She sympathized with those youth who lost contact with their family and cultural connections. Many were from remote or Northern communities and were far from home. “With assimilation, many youth have lost so much cultural identity already,” Greenfield says. “More is lost in jail.”
She says she didn't know much about her own cultural identity until she was in post-secondary education, and at first that learning was academic. With Aboriginal Initiatives she and other students and faculty get a more hands-on immersion into traditions and culture. “I’m more connected now to my heritage. We have circles, smudging ceremonies, pow wows and potlatches.” But more important she says, is the welcome, regardless of knowledge. “Here it’s okay not to know about First Nations’ heritage. I was embarrassed at first, but I realized a lot of people, both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal, don’t know. We are raising awareness, but in a kind way.”
Greenfield works with volunteer placement programs including Community Service Learning, which matches student volunteers to services. They work with after-school youth groups, elementary and secondary schools, the Children’s Aid Society and other groups.
Kerry Lynn Peltier grew up on the Wikwemikong First Nation on Manitoulin Island. Her path towards Nipissing U was more complex. She moved to Hamilton where she graduated, studied business at Cambrian College in Sudbury and Sault College in Sault Ste. Marie, worked in the casino industry in Niagara Falls for 12 years, became an accredited practitioner of homeopathy and meditation, and moved to North Bay with her partner.
She is currently in her third year of the Nipissing U Social Welfare and Social Development program with a double minor in Gender and Social Justice and in Sociology. Her goal is to help people gain a sense of well-being through health and better relationships. She has used her time at Nipissing well. She has helped design the Aboriginal Student Council, she sings with the university’s community choir and serves as an Aboriginal mentor to children and youth. She has also worked with Greenfield in volunteer placements.
Her varied background qualifies her for many fascinating life opportunities. In 2013, she was part of a Jamaican project where she advised on the business end of ecotourism. She worked with promotion of the Portland Rehabilitation Management project which focuses on homelessness and mental health. She was chosen to introduce Sophie, the Countess of Wessex, who visited Nipissing University.
“I like to build relationships,” she says. “And I like to improve health through homeopathy, encouraging individuals to take control of their own health. Health improves happiness and thinking.”
With one year left in her program, she has taken on a special task in 2015. She has been asked to be Aboriginal Ambassador through the Council of Ontario Universities, where she will be promoting Aboriginal success stories.