Home for Nicole is just up the road from the school. It’s the very house her husband grew up in, with a “backyard” that includes a spectacular stretch of country, a sparkling section of the Trent-Severn Waterway and a tiny island with a log cabin. By the time Nicole gets home, her two older boys are already fishing, while seven-year-old Wassinode (“northern light”) is helping to mow the lawn. Meanwhile, four-year-old Zhaawnong (“southern star”) runs out to the back deck and happily pees off the edge into the bush below. Seeing him, laughter bubbles up in Nicole as she says, “The joys of living in the country!” And then there is Adrian, whom Nicole has married twice—first in a traditional ceremony with Elders presiding, then in a Catholic church, where they both wore buckskin. This man, who knows Nicole better than anyone, says that it hasn’t always been easy for her. “She works long hours and she can handle a lot of stress at school, but sometimes she lets go with me—not at me—but with me,” he says. Nicole, who is sitting down for probably the first time all day, tries to explain why she does what she does. “The Elders teach us that when you pass into the spirit world, you’ll be asked, ‘What have you done with the time you have been given?'” Nicole, looking tired but content, knows she won’t be at a loss for words.
8 expert tips
Once Nicole had reconnected with her native roots, she yearned to help the rest of the aboriginal community achieve that same feeling. She wanted to be a foster parent to every child and to right every wrong until she became overwhelmed with the enormity of the task. “Nicole,” cautioned her mother, “you can’t save the world.” Nicole realized that her mother was right, but she did find ways to take small concrete steps. We asked Quebec life coach Marguerite Tennier and associate professor of native studies at Trent University Edna Manitowabi for their suggestions on staying grounded when embarking on a life change.
“Wear” your values. Embrace those principles that mean the most to you, says Manitowabi, such as kindness, sharing, honesty, inner strength. Don’t just talk about them. Live them.
Seek the wisdom of elders. Whenever you’re feeling adrift, suggests Manitowabi, go back to basics with the stories and teachings of older people of your culture who can help reinforce your sense of identity.
Pay attention to intuition. Instincts, gut feelings and even dreams that evoke strong emotional reactions may help you keep the focus on what really matters to you, says Manitowabi.
Forgive the past. Holding on to old hurts will only eat away at you. “Resentment and rage will keep you stuck, and it’s not a good place,” says Manitowabi, a survivor of the residential school system. Forgive and move on.
Don’t wait until it’s easy Big dreams are never achieved easily. By taking small risks now, you will increase your confidence, which works like a muscle, growing stronger with practice.
Celebrate the baby steps At the end of each day, pat yourself on the back for accomplishments—however small—related to your goal. For example, “Today, I acknowledge myself for jotting down thoughts about my project” or “for starting to write the application letter.” Write down five each day and review them weekly.
Look to the future There will be days when you must choose to forgo pleasant activities. Realize it’s temporary, and keep your eye on the big picture.
Take care of yourself If your goal is to help others, don’t forget to make self-care a priority, too. Take regular breaks, get enough sleep, eat well, exercise and relax so you can stay on course.