Trent student Autumn Cooper has recently become a key voice for Indigenous youth in Ontario.
Recently elected vice-president of the Ontario Native Women’s Association (ONWA), Autumn says she hopes to leverage her position to ensure more Indigenous youth voices are heard, understood and supported across the province.
“As vice president, I want to find out how ONWA can better support youth, hear their voices and give them the tools to succeed as our future leaders,” says Autumn, who is in her final year of the Indigenous B.Ed. program and is a member of Gzowski College.
ONWA elected Autumn during its 50th annual general assembly in Thunder Bay, Ont. on October 23.
Building on a Legacy of Leadership
Autumn follows in the footsteps of many strong female Indigenous leaders including her mother Dr. Dawn Lavell-Harvard, director of Trent’s First Peoples House of Learning (FPHL) and the outgoing ONWA president , as well as her grandmother Jeannette Corbiere Lavell, a co-founder of ONWA and pioneer in the struggle to end gender discrimination in the Indian Act.
In her nomination speech, Autumn shared how growing up around strong Indigenous women made her secure in her identity.
“From a young age, they have inspired me to do better for our family and for our communities,” she says.
Teachable Moments at Trent
Throughout her time at Trent, Autumn says FPHL has been invaluable in supporting her needs and teaching her more about Indigenous cultures.
FPHL brings in elders for teachings and mentorship, offers workshops and supports cultural activities throughout the academic year. Autumn recalls learning from an elder speaker about Indigenous star knowledge and wondering why she had only been taught about Roman and Greek constellation mythology in public school.
“It really solidified for me that we have all of these rich Indigenous stories about patterns we see in the sky, from people who live on this land, and we need to acknowledge them in our education system,” she says.
Through Trent’s experiential learning opportunities, Autumn says she has seen first-hand in local classrooms the lack of Indigenous knowledge and perspectives in the curriculum.
“Indigenous youth need to learn in a way that is relevant to who they are and their world views,” she says.
Learn more about Trent’s Indigenous B.Ed. program, and the many opportunities available through Chanie Wenjack School for Indigenous Studies at Trent.