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Kelly Chinchilla - Nishkewaasiiga’ed Ikwe (Shines Alone Woman)

March 2024

Kelly Chinchilla photo

  • Home Community:
    My mother’s parents came from two Ojibwe communities—Roseau River and Skownan First Nation, which are both located in Manitoba. I also have Métis ancestry from my dad’s side (from Kinosota) as well as Polish, but I was born and raised in Winnipeg.
  • Cultural Identity:
    Anishinaabe, Métis, and Eastern European (Polish)
  • Current Position:
    I have been an Early Years teacher in Seven Oaks School Division for five years (since September 2018); this is my sixth year teaching.
  • Education/Training:
    I graduated from the Community-based Aboriginal Teacher Education Program (CATEP) in 2018 with a Bachelor of Arts and a Bachelor of Education.
  • Roles/Responsibilities:
    This year, my teaching assignment has two roles: teaching Kindergarten in the morning, and working as an Ojibwe language and culture support teacher in the afternoon (supporting the seven Ojibwe bilingual classrooms). Some of the responsibilities in my Ojibwe language and culture support role are to work one-on-one with beginner language teachers, visit the Ojibwe classrooms to share teachings or language lessons, and help run the Powwow club and the Hoop Troop performance group within our school. I also support the Elders who come to visit our classroom by creating schedules for them, and I bring other Indigenous guests into our classrooms to share their cultural knowledge with our students.
“A year from now, you’re going to wish you’d started today” — Unknown

What obstacles did you face and how did you overcome them?
One thing I often like to share is my own story of empowerment through becoming a Powwow dancer and learning about the songs, dances, ceremonies, languages, and other Indigenous teachings. I didn’t grow up learning about any of these things, which caused a big disconnect and feelings of being lost as a youth; I had very low self-esteem as well as anger and sadness as a teen and young adult. Several negative, racist experiences during this time also contributed to this negative mentality. I had internalized the stereotypical and racist comments and beliefs that I often heard (especially within the schools I went to), and I felt like I didn’t belong anywhere. I also come from a family history of poverty, addictions, and intergenerational trauma; I had no positive role models growing up.

Once I became a mother to my daughter, I began to learn (in ceremony and teachings) that motherhood is a sacred role in traditional Indigenous societies, and I knew that I wanted my daughter to learn about our traditions and history in order to have a strong sense of identity so that she wouldn’t be as negatively impacted by racist/prejudiced experiences as I was. My hope is that she will be proud of who she is and filled with the knowledge (both historical and sacred) that was once outlawed in this country.

Another life-altering challenge I experienced and continue to face is living with my disability (Type 1 diabetes since November 2016). I developed this disease at some point during the summer of 2016 and gradually became very sick until I was diagnosed. I was finishing fall semester courses and about to begin my first teaching practicum when this happened. I pushed through the practicum as I was adjusting with insulin and getting my blood sugar under control. Managing the disease becomes very tiring at times, but in general I manage well and try to live as normal of a life as I can.

What or who inspired you to really go after the profession you are in now?
At some point in my early twenties, I knew I had to get a post-secondary education for a better future, but I wasn’t sure if I’d like to do social work or become a teacher. I chose education because I remembered how ignorant many of my own teachers and classmates were about the history of Indigenous people here in Canada. I realized this needed to change. I also like to think my grandparents who survived residential school would be proud of me being a teacher who advocates for Indigenous education.

What critical choices or decisions did you make that helped you get where you are today?
One of the most critical choices I made in my adult life was when I applied for the CATEP education program offered at the University of Winnipeg (which has a partnership with Seven Oaks School Division). This allowed me to gain experience working in the division as an Educational Assistant until I graduated with my degrees (Bachelor of Education and Bachelor of Arts), and then I was able to do my teaching practicum in the Ojibwe Bilingual Program at Riverbend. Once I graduated, I accepted a position (in September 2018) in the Ojibwe Bilingual Program, where I currently teach.

Message of Encouragement:
I often tell people that raising my child to learn about our traditions gave me a sense of purpose, as well as direction for my own journey to walk on this path. If I want my own daughter to continue on this path, I must also walk it, which is ultimately what led me to where I am today. I hope to continue to plant these seeds with all my students, allies, coworkers, and friends for as long as I am able to.