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Rama Youth Council co-ordinator encourages youth to explore their heritage

'I felt lost as a kid. I didn’t know who I was or where I came from,' says Brooke Morrow, who recently made a presentation at area high school
brooke morrow
Brooke Morrow, Indigenous student, activist and artist from Bracebridge, said enhancing Indigenous education is key to overcoming discrimination.

A young Indigenous woman from Bracebridge is trying to lead by example in showing Indigenous youth how critically important it is to learn about their culture and history. 

Brooke Morrow, 20, is currently in her second year studying at the University of Ottawa, majoring in Indigenous studies with a minor in creative writing. She is having to take her courses online this academic year due to the COVID-19 global pandemic.

Morrow, who describes herself as a proud Ojibwe artist as well as an activist, said she has her eye on teaching Indigenous language, culture and history once she has completed her post-secondary education. 

Morrow said, as busy as she is with online classes, she has found time for other culturally important activities. That included an online presentation last month to students at Gravenhurst High School where she taught a lesson on Indigenous ceramic art.

“I do a lot of different things. I have my small arts business, Kigons Creations, where I make earrings. I bead bracelets and I make Ojibwe-style moccasins. I also make ribbon skirts and I paint. I sell my art at the Annex arts collective in Bracebridge,“ Morrow said. “I also work on my reserve Rama First Nation, as a youth council co-ordinator.”

Morrow added that she is also an administrator for the Together  Against Racism in Muskoka Facebook group. She said she hasn’t felt a whole lot of racism firsthand, but said some of her Elders sure did.

“My grandfather was much more Indigenous than his siblings. He had a different father. When he was a kid growing up in Port Carling, the local kids would pick on him for being so much darker. But they would leave his siblings alone even though those kids knew they were Indigenous as well,” Morrow said. “This was back in the late 1940s, early 50s.”

Morrow said teaching the history of Indigenous people in her area to others, particularly young people, is important to her because she feels they are not taught enough about it in school.

“I just want people, especially kids like myself, who didn’t grow up within Indigenous communities, to experience and learn about where they come from as well as educate non-Indigenous people as to the difficulties we face daily,” she said.

“I felt lost as a kid. I didn’t know who I was or where I came from. When I started to look into Indigenous culture when I was about 17, it really made me connected to a people who I previously had felt very disconnected from.” 

Morrow added that the Indigenous history she learned while in high school in Bracebridge was not very thorough or in-depth. 

“I didn’t learn a lot about Indigenous people in high school. Not a lot of classes dealt with Indigenous people, not even Canadian history class. I did take an Indigenous studies class where I did learn more about our history,” Morrow said. “We talk a lot in all of my classes now about how the national Indigenous history we were taught is often very  wrong.”

She said she wants to set the record straight and teach students the true history of Indigenous contributions to Canadian society and the hardships that Indigenous people in Canada have had to overcome. 

Morrow said that when she completes her studies at the University of Ottawa, she hopes to enrol in the Anishinaabeowin emerging languages program at Georgian College in Barrie. She said she would then have to go back to university to earn her teaching certificate if she still wants to become a teacher.

“I might want to go on and get my masters and PhD instead. The thought of being a university professor and an author is also very intriguing to me,” Morrow said.

John McFadden is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter for Orillia Today.