My name is Lisa Charleyboy and I’m Tsilhqot’in, from Tsi Del Del in British Columbia, where my father’s family is from. My mother is Mexican and Dutch/Cherokee and hails from the United States.
My father was chief of our band, a residential school survivor and committed suicide when I was just four years old. My mother then moved my two older brothers and I to Abbotsford so that she could pursue post-secondary education and begin to support our family.
I was a latchkey kid for most of my childhood and I had to grow up fast. I lived in the suburbs and, every time I returned to my reserve, I didn’t feel connected. I felt like an outsider and never fit in. Although I knew that I was native, I never felt any particular connection to my culture as I was presented with mostly negative stereotypes and had encountered racism simply for the colour of my skin.
By grade 10, I had already decided that I was moving to Toronto upon graduation to attend Ryerson University for fashion communication. I am thankful that, despite the numerous difficulties I faced during high school, I managed to stay on the university track and keep my grades up and be able to continue school. At the age of 17, I left the sleepy suburbs for the bright lights and the big city that is Toronto.
Unfortunately, my adolescence hadn’t adequately prepared me for my fast-paced university life. I was left feeling very isolated and found it difficult to adjust, especially given that my upbringing was so different than the other students that I met. Although I loved Toronto and my program, I struggled through my three years of study. I faced serious depression and I had no family nearby or support system. Finally, a family tragedy occurred that brought me back to BC to face some of the difficulties that I had tried to leave behind.
Thankfully, I landed a job as a marketing assistant back in BC but I realized that my heart remained with fashion. I decided to pursue a career as a fashion editor but I soon realized I needed to earn a journalism degree before I could land my dream job.
My return to post-secondary education began once again as I switched majors to the professional writing program at York University in Toronto. That’s when my life began to change course in a significant way, as a first-year tutorial leader helped guide me toward learning more about my Indigenous roots.
While at school, I started to reach out to the First Nations community in Toronto and get involved. It was the first time that I felt ready to embrace my culture as I realized how amazingly educated, and successful our people are. Somehow, I hadn’t known about all the rich talents that were in the community and, as I had broadened my horizons, I saw the strength in Indigenous identity.
I began writing for SPIRIT magazine, which covered Aboriginal arts and culture, and I worked as a programming coordinator for imagineNATIVE Film and Media Arts Festival, where I really began to connect with Indigenous artists. During this time, I took the opportunity to meet other native people, study native culture and history and participate in community events. I felt that I was regaining a part of myself back that I hadn’t realized I had lost.
In 2009, I was selected to attend Inclusion Works ‘09 in Vancouver, where I met First Nations post-secondary graduates from all over the country. I was amazed at the level of professionalism that was presented and I was taken aback by the great opportunities offered for First Nations post-secondary graduates. Once again, I was made aware of the huge talent that lies in our community.
I began working with the Aboriginal Human Resource Council (AHRC) for Inclusion Works ’10 and I was able to attend the event in April and co-ordinate a team of Inclusion Works alumni volunteers. During the event, I was approached by York University staff and told that there was an upcoming job opening for an Aboriginal recruitment officer that might be right for me.
After some careful thought and deliberation, I decided that it was a natural fit given my love for York University and my strong belief in post-secondary education for Aboriginal youth as a road toward success.
My academic journey finished last June when I graduated from York University with a B.A. honours in professional writing. I started my new position in July and I am excited to meet Aboriginal youth and talk with them about their post-secondary education options. I hope to convey to them how important it is to stay on track with their studies even though they may be going through a difficult time. In the end, it is always worth the effort and the struggle to complete school as there are so many opportunities for them once they graduate.
Events like Inclusion Works and organizations like AHRC are helping to change the landscape of opportunities for Aboriginal youth, one job at a time. I greatly look forward to continuing my involvement with the AHRC as we continue the movement toward mobilization and prosperity for all Indigneous people, through education and employment support initiatives. I am so thankful for AHRC role in supporting my pathway to career success.
Editorial Note: Lisa Charleyboy is now known across Canada's Indigenous community for her social media outreach through "Urban Native Girl" and her Urban Native Magazine, which delivers pop culture with an Indigenous twist.