21-year-old Kyra was used to people trying to undermine her dreams of a bright future. Fortunately, she didn’t listen to them.
“I faced a lot of racism when I was in school,” Kyra said. “But I never let it stop me.”
She said since she was Indigenous, she was often singled out. Kyra also lived with abuse in her early years.
“I had a rough childhood, and that’s when my aunt came in and took me,” Kyra said. “I moved in with her when I was nine, and I’ve been with her ever since.”
“My Aunt Cindy is my role model,” Kyra said. “She’d tell me, ‘Just because someone says you can’t do something doesn’t mean it’s true – they’re just trying to drive you away from something.’”
Kyra was 16 when she moved to Winnipeg with her aunt from a small Manitoba town. This move helped change Kyra’s life.
“It took me a while to get over the trauma, but that’s also when I knew I wanted to work with kids,” Kyra said. “A lot of kids go through this trauma, and they deserve to have someone to listen to them.”
Kyra at Red River College.
Kyra started on the path of helping youth at 13 when she met a young Indigenous girl who was a Jingle Dress dancer. Until that time, Kyra had felt detached from her Indigenous roots, as she was raised Catholic.
“I wanted to gain more knowledge about my culture,” Kyra said. “She slowly taught me little things here and there. That’s when I was introduced to Ka Ni Kanichihk.”
Ka Ni Kanichihk provides Indigenous-identified programs and services that focus on wholeness and wellness, helping Indigenous people help themselves, build healthy relationships, and create a sustainable future for their community.
Kyra joined Ka Ni Kanichihk’s “Restoring the Sacred” mentorship program in 2014.
“For two years, I was a mentee and then transitioned to mentor. I’ve been doing that for three years now,” Kyra said. “And since I didn’t grow up learning my culture, I guess you can say I teach what I learn as I go – stories, teachings, and activities – whatever I can pass on.”
As well as sharing teachings about Indigenous culture, Kyra also tutors over 20 youth (ages 14-24) from Northern communities.
“It’s like my second home,” Kyra said. “They’re so welcoming.”
Ka Ni Kanichihk is one of 15 member agencies that comprise Youth Agencies Alliance (YAA).
In 2017, Kyra was part of the Junior Staff Program, “Building Belonging,” through Spence Neighbourhood Association, another YAA member. “Building Belonging” is an after-school program designed for children ages six-12, and provides participants with a healthy snack, a homework club, and access to computers.
Kyra’s passion for mentorship has paved the way for her post-secondary educational pursuits.
Kyra is currently enrolled in the Youth Recreational Worker program at Red River College. She is completing her second practicum at the N.E.E.D.S. (Newcomers Employment and Education Development Services) Centre, another United Way Winnipeg agency partner. N.E.E.D.S. provides accessible services and support to immigrant and refugee children and youth, and their families.
“In my roles as mentor and tutor, I like that they remind me of the mentors I’ve had and looked up to, and I want to provide the same thing,” Kyra said. “I know how it feels to move to a new city or meet new workers. I see these kids who are shy and nervous, and I want to change that and help them feel comfortable.”
Once she’s graduated from her program in May, Kyra wants to continue working with youth and young adults, though she is keeping her career options open.
“I’ve always had big plans,” Kyra said. “Maybe I’ll be a lawyer for Indigenous rights or a psychologist. Or maybe I’ll upgrade my Early Childhood Education certificate to Level 2.”
Whatever path Kyra takes, one thing is certain – she plans to be very busy!
“My Auntie has never stopped learning. She’s graduated so many times, and she’s still studying,” Kyra said. “So if she’s not going to stop, I’m not going to stop. I can keep going.”
Ka Ni Kanichihk, translated in English, means, “those who lead,” and Kyra, on her quest to continue learning, listening, teaching, and sharing, is doing just that.