Changemakers Series No. 2: Former youth in care who are changing the world — and the child welfare system — for the better

Meet Gabriella, whose life was changed by an Indigenous child welfare worker. She hopes to make a similar difference in the lives of other youth in care.

Gabrielle 4

Changemaker

My name is Gabriella.

Where

Oshawa

The biggest challenge I have faced

My grandmother died, and my mother went down a spiral. She fell off a roof and ripped a tendon and was prescribed OxyContin and Percocet, and then Secanol, and then methadone. We got into a fight one day and I ended up breaking a glass door in my house. The cops came and put a no-contact order on me, and that’s how I got into care. When I was taken into care I felt like my connection to my community was completely lost. I felt like I was at a residential school. My culture was my standing ground and my way to connect, and when I lost that I really lost myself. I hated the world, didn’t want to live, was very resentful, and hated being Aboriginal. I suffered from split feather syndrome. It’s a disorder where you feel unknown, you have nothing to connect with, nothing to go back on, and there’s nothing that gives you an identity or a personality.

How I experienced change in Ontario’s child welfare system

I was living in a group home just as an Indigenous service team was being developed. Danielle, my Indigenous worker, has been the most life impacting thing I’ve ever had. Thanks to Danielle and the Indigenous service team pushing so hard I was able to visit a medicine man and noticed the difference in myself after talking to somebody in Ojibway. They also helped me get my status card, and go back and visit my reservation. I don’t consider Danielle my social worker, I consider her my family. I have a picture of her on my wall. Because the Aboriginal program at my group home was so phenomenal, I didn’t feel so alone. If I’d had these services in my hometown I would have had the opportunity to grow up there. I would never have had to come out here and experience the life that I did.

My personal transformation moment

Things really started to change when I was 16 and I made my first trips to the medicine man. Now I know my spirit name is Blue Crane Woman. I have three colours: white, light blue, and blue. One of the most exhilarating things for me was to get back on a horse. On a horse is when I feel most grounded. These things are so important to me as an Indigenous person because they show me what I need to learn in life, what is happening, and gives me my idea of who I am.

What I hope to change

My purpose on earth is to make a change so other people don’t have to go through my struggle. I want to go back to Kirkland Lake and be the kind of counsellor that Danielle is. We’ve proved what the disconnection of Indigenous people has done. I want to be part of proving what reconnection can do.

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