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Yorkville Announces Members of New Indigenous Students Advisory Council

Yorkville University and Toronto Film School have announced the names of the inaugural members of its newly launched Indigenous Students Advisory Council (ISAC).   

“We are so impressed with the calibre of the Indigenous Student Advisory Council members. Each member brings their own unique lived experience, cultural knowledge, and diverse professional background,” said Jessica Gruchy, Yorkville’s Manager of Indigenous Partnerships and Engagement.

“The students are passionate and excited to contribute and make a meaningful difference for other Indigenous students at Yorkville University and Toronto Film School.”

Co-chaired by Gruchy and Thamina Jaferi, Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, the ISAC is a nine-member body that was created via a collaborative and consultative process to address the specific needs of Indigenous students.  

“The ISAC is a mechanism for our leadership to engage in meaningful dialogues of truth, respect, trust and reconciliation with Indigenous students, so that we can create more inclusive spaces for Indigenous students to build relationships and engagement with their Indigenous peers and with the greater YU and TFS community,” Jaferi said. 

“These new student members will have the opportunity to voice their unique perspectives on the student experience and provide feedback to the organization on the enhancement of Indigenous inclusion.” 

Read more about each of the nine members of the Indigenous Students Advisory Council here: 

Heather Alexander, MACP Student (YU)

Kwe’, teluisi Heather (Hello, my name is Heather). I am from Kippens, Newfoundland and I am a member of the Qalipu First Nation in Newfoundland. I completed my B.A. in Sociology and Criminology Certificate at Memorial University in 2016, and I am currently a practicum student of the Master of Arts in Counselling Psychology program.

My experiences as a Mi’kmaq woman with French-Scottish descent have been shaped by the journey of reconnecting with sacred teachings, ceremonies and medicines with the help and guidance of Elders from my community, the St. John’s Mi’kmaq Circle, and connecting with fellow youth from my community. Having worked within the criminal justice system, the importance of culturally responsive policies and procedures within institutional spaces became a personal and professional interest of mine.

I am grateful to be a member of the Indigenous Student Advisory Council, as I am passionate about honoring the nuanced experiences and complex barriers faced by Indigenous students at Yorkville University and Toronto Film School.

Rebekah Brackett (she/her/hers), MACP Student (YU)

Rebekah is an Indigenous woman and member of the Piikani Nation. Rebekah is also an artist and advocate of the Fraser Valley arts community and serves as a senior board member of the Abbotsford Arts Council and currently works within a post-secondary environment. Rebekah Brackett is a student in the Master of Arts in Counselling Psychology at Yorkville University. Her experiences of living on both coasts (both culturally and physically) are often reflected in her art and schoolwork.

Rebekah is a millennial scoop survivor and belongs to the Piikani Nation (Aapátohsipikáni) in Alberta. Rebekah grew up in both Nova Scotia and British Columbia with her adopted family. Her adopted family consisted of her late mother, who was a Burmese internment camp survivor, and her father, who was Irish from generations of Atlantic Canada. Rebekah currently resides in S’olh Téméxw (Fraser Valley, British Columbia) with her supportive husband Shawn and their two cats, Thorn and Francis, and their dog named Friday.

Rebekah believes that she has a responsibility to be present, lend her voice, and be an advocate to the social atmosphere and current evolving movements. As an Indigenous woman, she hopes that her voice will help other Indigenous students (First Nations, Metis, and Inuit) from all areas of Turtle Island who face barriers and challenges while navigating the University system. Rebekah is firmly committed to the Truth and Reconciliation Calls to Action.

Amy Commanda, MACP student (YU)

Boozhoo, Aanii! My name is Amy Commanda and I am an Anishinaabe kwe from Nipissing First Nation in Ontario in my final year of the Master of Arts in Counselling Psychology program. I have also completed an Honours Bachelor of Arts in Indigenous Studies with a minor in Women’s Studies from Laurentian University.

Currently, I have worked at Laurentian in the Indigenous Student Affairs office since 2014 and am honoured for the opportunity to share specific insights and experience I have gained from providing support services to Indigenous students over the past eight years.

I feel it’s vitally important to include and uplift the voices of Indigenous students when we talk about Truth and Reconciliation in post-secondary institutions, especially when it comes to prioritizing language revitalization as well as land-based learning. As an Indigenous student, staff member within Indigenous services, and former sessional instructor for the Indigenous Studies program at the University of Sudbury, I have multiple perspectives that can be leveraged within the Indigenous Student Advisory Council and am ready to get started!

Janell Dautel, MACP student (YU)

Janell Dautel is Metis from Yellowknife, Northwest Territories and is a member of the North Slave Metis Alliance.

Currently enrolled in the Master of Arts in Counselling Psychology program with Yorkville University, Janell has a Bachelor of Social Work and 10 years of experience working in the Immigration sector in settlement and policy. Prior to that, Janell worked with Indigenous organizations in victim services and delivering Indigenous skills and employment programs.

Janell is passionate about social justice, equality, mental health, empowering women and her culture. She spends time with her family and friends when she is not working or studying. She enjoys making traditional clothing, especially moccasins and teaching others the art of sewing.

Janell is excited to be part of the Indigenous Student Advisory Council and advance Indigenous inclusion at Yorkville University and Toronto Film School.

Aaron W. Fox, MACP student (YU)

Oki/Hello students and facilitators, my name is Aaron Fox and I am a MACP graduate student at Yorkville University, and a proud First Nations member of the Blood tribe of the Blackfoot confederacy in Southwest Alberta. I look forward to serving on the Indigenous Student Advisory Council at Yorkville University and Toronto Film School, and I view this as a great honour and an opportunity to help facilitate the academic experience of my fellow Indigenous students.

My academic background is in human development and marriage and family therapy, and I’ve worked in several states in the U.S. in a variety of therapeutic roles. More recently, I have returned home to manage a health clinic on my reservation while completing my schooling, and I plan on working with my Blood tribal members after graduation.

Personally, I am grounded and recharge in the outdoors through (very slow) trail running, mountain biking, and snowboarding in the Rocky Mountains of Southwest Alberta. Music is also a strong passion that is manifest through playing and teaching guitar to local students, as well as through a growing vinyl record collection. I am excited to work with and better know the Indigenous community in these academic institutions through this opportunity.

Vanessa Nicholson, MACP student (YU)

Vanessa Nicholson is a mixed Anishinaabe counsellor, researcher, and helper. She is a member of Sagamok Anishnawbek and has an undergraduate degree in Forensic Psychology and a Master’s in Child and Youth Care (CYC). She is currently pursuing a Master of Arts degree in Counselling Psychology with Yorkville University. 

Growing up disconnected from her community, Vanessa has used her educational and personal journey as a method to explore her culture and identity. She currently works for a non-profit organization called Finding Our Power Together as the Recreation and Land-Based Program Coordinator and Mentor. Vanessa also supports students’ emotional and social growth as a Counsellor at kapapamahchakwew – Wandering Spirit School with the Toronto District School Board.

She is excited to be a part of the Indigenous Student Advisory Council, to share her knowledge, and to learn alongside others, chi-miigwech!

Charmayne Scout, Designing for Fashion student (TFS)

Oki/Hello! My name is Charmayne scout I am a proud Blackfoot woman from Lethbridge, Alberta. I was born in Cardston, Alberta, but grew up in Lethbridge. My family comes from the Blood reserve, also known as kainai.

I am 31, and I have a 10-year-old son. Together we have gone through so much. Last year my son lost his dad, and my best friend, but with the love and support of others around us, we stayed strong.

Trying to stay positive and to keep moving forward, I started making and selling jewelry to help cope with the loss. I went to Red Crow Community College and graduated from there in 2017. I also worked at Red Crow Community College as an administrative assistant/receptionist in the Summer of 2018 as a summer student. I enjoyed volunteering at various events, such as The Sun Dance building relationships, and connections to my culture that I hope last a lifetime.

I started school here at Yorkville University on January 10, 2022, and I am excited to see where I’ll be a year from now.

Jessica Gruchy, Manager of Indigenous and Partnership Engagement (YU & TFS)

Jessica Gruchy is the Manager of Indigenous and Partnership Engagement with Yorkville University and Toronto Film School.

Born and raised in St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador, Jessica is a Mi’kmaq member of the Qalipu First Nation. She has a Professional Master’s of Education Degree from Queen’s University, a Bachelor of Science Degree in Business Administration from Husson University, as well as diplomas in Travel and Tourism and Business Administration. 

When Jessica joined Yorkville University and Toronto Film School, she did so with one goal in mind: To amplify the voices and increase the presence of the school’s Indigenous students. Jessica feels honoured to co-chair the Indigenous Student Advisory Council and feels this council will make a meaningful and lasting difference

Thamina Jaferi, Director of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (YU & TFS) 

Thamina Jaferi is the Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion for Yorkville University and Toronto Film School.

An experienced diversity and inclusion professional and subject matter expert, Jaferi has a background in law, human rights and equity. In her role she develops, implements and administers various diversity programs, education and training to advance and support a diverse and inclusive workplace and inclusive service provision in the higher education sector.

Thamina is grateful to be working alongside Jessica Gruchy as Co-Chairs and as a settler member of the ISAC. She looks forward to learning from the ISAC members and deepening her understanding of collaboratively creating more meaningful opportunities for Truth and Reconciliation, and receiving the feedback of Indigenous students through openness and respect. 

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