Ashley Okrainec

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Hey! My name is Ashley Okrainec and I live in Inuvik. I was born and raised in the Dehcho Region, on the traditional territory of the Liidlii Kue First Nation (in Fort Simpson). My mother, Rosa Wright is from Inuvik. She has spent most of her life living in Liidlii Kue and is a member of Liidlii Kue First Nation. My father is Brad Okrainec, who is Polish, English, Ukrainian from Ontario and has also spent a majority of his life living in Liidlii Kue. My maternal grandparents are Wilbert and Mabel Wright, who are Gwich’in from the Mackenzie Delta. My paternal grandparents are Emil and Joyce Okrainec, who are first- and second-generation immigrants from Europe who settled in Ontario. There are many more to name and connect with, but I am still learning. Displaced from the homelands and culture of my ancestors, learning these connections has been a long process, much like the process of learning how to “choose to challenge”. I am going to share more on that.

Throughout my childhood I have lived in Yellowknife, Fort Smith, and Hay River but I spent most of my time growing in Fort Simpson. From a young age I knew I had learning difficulties and I continue to grow with them as they impact my social and learning experiences. On top of those challenges, I am no stranger to alcohol & drug addiction, poverty, violence, mental illness, suicide, and sexual abuse. I experienced some of these personally, but I am also impacted by the others indirectly. With my personal mixed bag of struggles and experienced trauma, reflecting back, my life could have gone in a very different direction that it is going now.

So far, I have completed a diploma in Environmental Protection, a bachelor’s degree in biology and I graduated in 2019, from the Aurora College Business Administration diploma program in Inuvik. Over about a 9 year period, I worked seasonally for Nahanni National Park Reserve. After leaving Parks Canada, I had short opportunities working with Liidlii Kue First Nations, Gwich’in Tribal Council, and Inuvik Native Band learning about self-government and land claim processes, communication and project management. I now work for Aurora College as one of the Student Life & Wellness Coordinators. In my free time, I am an artist, I make jewellery that reflects my connections to the land, to the animals and to my Dene culture. Currently, I am a Jane Glassco Northern Fellow. My research is on the meaning of home and how that can be reflected in housing policy to work better for the North. If I have any other free time, I enjoy volunteering in the community, I make time to learn hide tanning, I try to support local youth in building their capacity, and I love to be on the land.

Thinking of how I got to this point and throughout all my struggles, it comes down to me being lucky that I had others who “chose to challenge” for me and my ability to do the work. People stood up for me, they rescued me, they showed me respect, they took time to teach me and they encouraged me to turn my ideas into action. Even though they didn’t have to, even though some people didn’t know me that well, they made space for me. It wasn’t a consistent thing but when it did happen, I was relieved and inspired. Their instincts and ability to speak out against the wrong they were seeing, or hearing was pivotal to change. Those people are unsung heroes to me. When I stand tall, it’s because of the bravery and confidence they modeled to me. I “choose to challenge” because I know that speaking up makes a difference, even it is for one person, who I don’t know. I want to give back to my communities, the same way those people gave to me. As my experiences and skills grow, so do my opportunities to “choose to challenge” in all aspects of my life. As I continue to find ways to make change, I hope to inspire people in
this way and be that one person, when I get those chances. Mahsi Cho.

Listen to Ashley’s Full interview !


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