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Audio version

“Better self-identity leads to confidence, which leads to success.”

“I was angry and depressed. I noticed I was different than other people,” she says. “I loved my adoptive mother, but I was missing something. I didn’t have my own identity, and I felt alone.”

Coming to Seneca as a mature student, Roxanne was introduced to First Peoples@Seneca, which provides academic services, such as tutoring and career counselling, as well as cultural and social activities like smudging, water blessings, drum circles and powwows. Roxanne connected with the campus Elder and participated in workshops where she made medicine bags, moccasins quill earrings and birch bark canoes.

“I got so many of my teachings back,” she says. “I started to learn about myself, where I came from, and I started to feel a sense of belonging.”

Today, as a Child/Youth Mental Health Addictions Worker with the Enaahtig Healing Lodge and Learning Centre, Roxanne has come full circle to provide holistic healing and learning, based on the principles of Indigenous culture and traditions.

“I’ve had a long journey,” she says. “I’ve been in challenging situations on the job. But with the skills I learned at Seneca I’m able to work through them in a culturally safe and professional way. I’ve come home to my community, and I’ve reclaimed my identity.”

Roxanne’s story isn’t unique among the more than 700 Indigenous students who come to Seneca from across Canada and the U.S. For many, First Peoples@Seneca is a home away from home—a goal Mark Solomon, Director, Student Life, had when establishing it for Indigenous students with transitional issues.

“We’ve had students from remote territories who get overwhelmed by the number of people in the grocery store,” says Mark. “Most students who come to First Peoples are looking for empathy and shared experiences. What I see in that office is resilience. There’s laughter, eating and tears. The staff are like aunties. They help and guide, and they’re not afraid to scold.”

First Peoples@Seneca Coordinator Peggy Pitawanakwat and her colleagues often work with faculty to help Indigenous students, like Roxanne, reconnect with their roots.

“They come to get an understanding of their background,” she explains. “They’re able to embrace who they are. Better self-identity leads to confidence, which leads to success.”

Seneca is located on the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation traditional territory and has a deep connection to Canada’s Indigenous people. Last fall, President David Agnew signed the National Indigenous Education Protocol during a traditional ceremony to raise a tipi at Newnham Campus. The ceremony saw many members of the Indigenous community in attendance, including alumna Const. Monica Rutledge, who studied Law Enforcement (now Police Foundations) before First Peoples@Seneca was established.

After 15 years in uniform, Monica now works with Toronto Police Service’s Aboriginal Peacekeeping Unit to help Indigenous people deal with issues in a large urban setting. An Ojibway from Red Lake, Ontario, her father died before she was born. No one knew what happened to her mother. Monica lived in two foster homes before the age of four—also during the Sixties Scoop—when she and her brothers were adopted and moved to Toronto.

Monica remembers being a “typical high school kid who was into the latest fashion, music and house parties” when her adoptive father, a now-retired Toronto police officer, took her to her first powwow at the then SkyDome (now Rogers Centre).

“My father never denied us our culture,” she says. “That’s when I started reading more about my culture and volunteering with the Aboriginal Peacekeeping Unit.”

Recently, through Facebook, Monica and her brothers reunited with their birth father’s family in Winnipeg. They learned their mother had died from breast cancer years ago. They were shown a photo of her for the first time.

“I can now look in the mirror and say, ‘I do look like my mom,’” says Monica. “What I’ve learned is that we’re all related and intertwined. It’s like a spider web of a dreamcatcher. At some point, it’ll all connect.”

Learn more about First Peoples@Seneca at

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