By Terra Kerani MacPhail
Ashley Daniels is a 23-year-old Dakota Ojibway woman (Anishinnabekwe-Dakota Winyan) proudly from a Treaty 1 community called Swan Lake First Nation in Manitoba, Canada. In March 2018, Daniels became the Female Youth Chief of the Southern Chiefs’ Organization (SCO) by unanimous vote. Established in 1999, the SCO represents 36 southern Manitoba First Nations. Not only does Daniels serve youth from all 36 communities, but she also votes with the Chiefs at the decision-making table. Daniels helped to build the SCO Youth Council from the ground up and is now also the appointed Manitoba representative for the Assembly of First Nations National Youth Council. Living in Manitoba, where the odds are stacked high against Indigenous youth, Daniels advocates for the systems inherent in the dominant culture to become more Indigenous-led for the future generations. One of her current goals is to deliver Indigenous language and culture to the youth of Southern Manitoba.
Daniels is about to begin her last year as a student at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg where she is pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree with a major in Native Studies and a minor in Biology.
SAY Magazine caught up with Daniels and asked her a few questions about what drives her passion and mission in life. In this interview, she shares her post-secondary experience and how it has influenced her to grow and succeed.
SAY: What do you hope to accomplish in your career after you earn your undergraduate degree?
Daniels: I am in university because I dream of attending medical school to become a doctor. Going to university is the first step in achieving this goal.
SAY: What advice would you give to other Indigenous youth and prospective students?
Daniels: My advice to prospective students is to find the Indigenous student centre or Indigenous student association on the campus you plan to attend. Finding like-minded people will help you transition into this new institution. Introduce yourself to your professors, be honest with them about what you need help with in the classroom. Tutors are the most helpful resource on campus. There are free resources that most Indigenous centres can provide. Put every single assignment in your calendar with a reminder a week, two weeks and three weeks before.
SAY: Why would you recommend post-secondary education to Indigenous youth?
Daniels: I recommend post-secondary education because it can open doors. Remember, post-secondary doesn’t just mean university. It includes colleges and trade schools. More education and knowledge won’t hurt you, but instead, it will benefit whatever career you want to pursue.
SAY: Which student supports at the University of Manitoba have you found most helpful as an Indigenous student?
Daniels: My favourite support program offered at the University of Manitoba is Neechiwaken Indigenous Peer Mentor Program, with which I have been both a mentor and a mentee. Still to this day, my mentor Taylor is my role model. She has helped me in many ways, including being a student by sharing her tips and tricks to navigate life through university.
SAY: What are your plans after graduation?
Daniels: I plan on taking the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) and apply to medical school after I graduate.
SAY: With all that you are doing as a community leader, how do you find time to enjoy yourself? What do you like to do in your leisure time?
Daniels: I take time for myself each day, either in the morning or evening, to just relax. Sometimes I take a full day off to do something I enjoy, like going for a hike, spending time with family or going back home to my communities. I also participate in cultural ceremonies.
SAY: If you could hope for one thing to develop in your community over the next ten years, what would it be?
Daniels: Seeing more job opportunities for the youth, for those as young as 15 years old and I would like to see a balance of younger professionals in the workplaces.
SAY: You were appointed as the Manitoba representative for the Assembly of First Nations National Youth Council recently. How do you see the AFN helping to achieve the goal of more job opportunities for Indigenous youth?
Daniels: By bringing youth voices to the decision-making table; it will help to continue bridging the gaps and deliver more relevant opportunities for youth.
SAY: What do you believe are the essential skills that Indigenous youth need to cultivate to become successful leaders?
Daniels: Public speaking. It helps a lot to overcome anxious feelings and helps amplify your voice in a room of people. Also, learning from the land and reconnecting that bond. Learning to feel confident with who you are is invaluable
Terra Kerani MacPhail (Métis) is a content creator and strategist. She can be reached with story ideas at email@example.com.