Education & Mentorship with Emma Greenfield

As part of Connected North’s Future Pathways program, TakingITGlobal is interviewing Indigenous role models about their work, their art, their challenges, and their inspirations. We call them Future Pathways Fireside Chats.

Emma Greenfield is a teacher who trains early childhood educators on their responsibilities in reconciliation to Indigenous children and families. She grew up in a small town near Toronto called Schomberg. Her ancestry is British, French, Irish, Italian, and Mohawk. Emma’s spirit name is Zhawenjige Ode Kwe, which means “open-hearted woman”.

Emma’s path to her meaningful career was not perfectly straight, and her ‘open heart’ was an important tool along the way. At each stage in her educational journey, she found new interests and took new opportunities. “What I’m doing now is very different from what I thought I was going to school for.”

After high school, Emma wanted to pursue her education further, but didn’t know what she wanted to study. She allowed herself time to discover her interests. “During that time, I enrolled in a yoga instructor course and became a certified yoga instructor.”

For two years, Emma taught yoga classes, first to adults, and then to children. “In teaching children, I realized that I really loved working with kids. So I enrolled myself into post-secondary education, doing a Bachelor in Child Development.”

During that course of study, Emma assisted in teaching an Indigenous awareness course. “In that process, I discovered that I really love teaching in post-secondary education. So that’s what I’m doing now.”

Emma recalls the challenges she faced in transitioning from her small town community to a huge school in downtown Toronto. During that first year at Seneca College, Emma focused entirely on her schoolwork, to the detriment of her larger experience. “I started to become really hard on myself, and focusing so much on those grades. As important as doing well in school is, there are so many other life lessons, and my personal life had really struggled.”

In her second and third years at college, however, Emma found her way to the Indigenous Student Centre. “Connecting with the Indigenous Student Centre, and connecting with knowledge holders and the elders at my college really helped me….They just kept me grounded in a spirituality. They kept me grounded in laughter.”

Emma had been shy about joining the Centre at first. “I felt like I wouldn’t be accepted. I felt like I didn’t belong. I felt like people would judge me based on my appearance, and wouldn’t accept me the same as other students.

“But oh boy was I wrong! The second that I walked in I was met by someone who I literally refer to now as my Auntie. She gave me tasks, she gave me volunteer opportunities. I was able to facilitate a workshop. All of a sudden, I was tasked with all these opportunities that I don’t think I had done, ever, in my entire life. That gave me a sense of community that I didn’t even know I was craving.”

Illustration by Shaikara David

Her experience of connecting with mentors, especially Indigenous mentors, had a powerful impact on Emma’s self-esteem and mindset, as well as her future focus of work, and her respect for the mentoring process. So much so, that she is offering herself up as a mentor. “If anyone feels inclined to reach out to me, ask me any questions….I would love to be a mentor to someone and give back in the way that people showed me.”

To any Indigenous youth planning to head to college or university in the fall, Emma encourages you not to wait to connect with the school’s Indigenous students’ space. She advises that you reach out over the summer. “Connect with the elder or coordinator of the space. That just kind of takes a little bit of the stress away, because you’ve just made that initial connection.”

By joining a community of fellow Indigenous students and faculty, Emma knows you’ll be making friends, meeting mentors, adding volunteer work to your resume, plus you’ll be giving back to that community. “It’s a win-win!”

And keep an open heart to find mentors “who see your gifts and foster them. [In fact] not just see them, but actually push you to foster them and to grow those gifts into something greater than you can even imagine for yourself.”

The Connected North Future Pathways program is brought to you by TakingITGlobal with support from the RBC Foundation. Special thanks to
Jessica Dee Humphreys for authoring this blog post.

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