Meet Christina Gillis:
Christina Gillis graduated from the University of Guelph in 2019 with a Bachelor of Arts, Honours in Sociology and shortly after graduation, started a job as a Client Centre Support Worker at the Native Women’s Resource Centre of Toronto (NWRCT), where she has since been promoted to Program Assistant. While at the University of Guelph, Christina was an extremely active student in various experiential learning opportunities including the three Catalyst Programs, contributing as a member on the Indigenous Student Society and the University of Guelph’s President’s Advisory Committee on Indigenous Initiatives, a Student Advisor for the Aboriginal Mental Wellbeing Initiative, an Orientation Team Facilitator, and more! Christina shares her experiences while at U of G as well as her favourite memories, her advice for current students, and what she’s up to now at the NWRCT.
Tell us about your experience on the Indigenous Student Society (at the time, Aboriginal Student Association)! What did your various roles entail?
“I moved to Guelph in 2015 to attend the university from Niktuipukwek First Nation, a Mi'kmaq community in Nova Scotia. I had already completed a degree previously at UPEI on Prince Edward Island, and mostly kept my focus on my studies, however, this time around I wanted to get more involved on campus and I found out about the Aboriginal Student Association (ASA) during Orientation Week. I felt an instant connection with the Indigenous community on campus and knew I wanted to be a part of it from the beginning. I started off on the ASA as a member at large during my first year, and in my second year, I moved onto the social media coordinator role. In my third year, I served as co-chair of the ASA alongside Kristine Keon. In all three positions, the main task for those on the ASA was to provide programming and workshops relevant to the Indigenous community on campus, having a home away from home for the members of our community.”
What sorts of things did you help advise on while serving on the University of Guelph’s President’s Advisory Committee on Indigenous Initiatives (at the time, University of Guelph President's Advisory Council on Aboriginal Initiatives)? What was the most important thing about that role, for you?
“Serving as the Undergraduate Student representative on the University of Guelph's President's Advisory Council on Aboriginal Initiatives is one of the roles I take great pride in during my time at U of G. I got to sit at a table with some of the most influential governing bodies at the university and to know that I held space for the voice of Indigenous students was very important to me. During the time I served on the committee the Truth and Reconciliation Report was released and the university was working through that and how they could implement the 94 Calls to Action into life on campus, more and more Indigenous professors were being hired for Indigenous focused courses- I always thought this was a special time to be involved, knowing that the discussions around that table could and would hopefully lead to meaningful and impactful change at the University of Guelph for years to come.”
How did you find out about the role of Student Advisor for the Aboriginal Mental Wellbeing Initiative?
“The Aboriginal Mental Wellbeing Initiative was a project that Aboriginal Resource Centre (currently Indigenous Student Centre) had partnered on with Six Nations Polytechnic, and Student Services at Mohawk College in 2015/2016. I was approached by staff members of the Aboriginal Resource Centre about the project and I knew it was something I had to be a part of as the initiative was designed to address gaps in mental health support for First Nations, Métis and Inuit learners in postsecondary education.”
For anyone who doesn't know, what is the Catalyst Program and what were the activities you took part in?
“Catalyst Program is an experiential learning program that is simply transformative. The learning experiences that come with the Catalysts will inspire you, motivate you, and challenge you to think more deeply about your surroundings and the world as a whole. I was lucky to participate in my first Catalyst program in 2016, in Neyaashiinigmiing, where as a participant we learned about Indigenous culture and contemporary First Nations communities. The first experience I had with the Catalyst Program had me hooked. I applied the following three years to be a student leader with the program and lead programs in Neyaashiinigmiing, as well as the Vancouver program which focused on inner city life on the Downtown Eastside and the Truth and Reconciliation project that explored the topic of reconciliation with Indigenous communities unpacking questions such as: What does reconciliation mean? What is the role of individuals and communities in reconciliation? Participants were able to gain an understanding of Indigenous resilience.”
What was the most valuable thing you learned or took away from the experience of being a Student Leader on Nawash Catalyst, Downtown Eastside Vancouver Catalyst, and Truth and Reconciliation Catalyst?
“The most valuable thing I learned or took away from my experience within the Student Life department and with the Catalyst Program as a whole was how vital they believed transformational experiences were to not only the student, but the person the student was developing to be in the world! As we know, reconciliation is an ongoing process, and we will not reach reconciliation in a short time, there will be work to do for this for generations to come but the work I was able to do as a Student Leader with the Catalyst: Truth and Reconciliation program is a highlight of my entire experience at the University of Guelph. My co-leader, Emma Anderson and I did a lot of behind the scenes work with the Student Life department and Cassie Wever to develop this particular program, which I think spoke volumes of Student Life and their commitment to reconciliation. They not only provided Indigenous voices, but utilized their Indigenous student voices and to think that Emma and I played a role in the foundation of that is remarkable.”
Would you recommend the Certificate in Civic Engagement and Global Citizenship to others?
“I would absolutely recommend the Certificate in Civic Engagement and Global Citizenship to others. This certificate program was a wonderful reflection tool for me in my final year at the university. I got to really focus on my interests both in the classroom and outside in the "real world" and see how the two collided; I was able to put all of those interests into focus. I truly believe that upon my process of this certificate I mapped out my eventual career path without realizing it. I created a vision, felt supported in that vision with the direction of Professor Leah Levac and ultimately had a game plan after graduation.”
What was your favourite memory from being an Orientation Team Facilitator?
“First and foremost, I am a very introverted extrovert. I love the planning, preparation and the execution of the events and I knew that was a huge component of my role on the O-Team. One thing I did not know I was signing myself up for as a member of the O-Team was the Pep Rally and having to lead a dance in front of 4500+ new students. I will admit at first this was one of my least favorite tasks, but when the day came, and I had no choice but to get on that stage and move- I did it! It ended up being the highlight of O-Week for me that year. I pushed myself out of my comfort zone and was really glad I tried something new.”
As an extremely involved student, how were you able to balance everything that you were doing, while in school?
“Being involved is what kept me focused and able to balance my academics. I knew I had commitments and those commitments provided structure for me. With so much going on there was very little room to procrastinate. I will admit, while not many, I did have to pull a few all-nighters still.”
What was your favourite U of G memory?
“As an Indigenous person, community is so important. Community and the impact it has on Indigenous people is embedded in our culture and held at high regard. I think my favorite memory at U of G was the experience of finding my community there, not just a single moment in time. The community connection I made in my four years in Guelph continues and I think being able to secure and carry that connection is my highlight.”
What would your advice be to current students?
“My advice to current students is to not be afraid to ask questions. So often we try to fly under the radar and think that is the best way to get by, but putting yourself out there and asking those questions can make a world of a difference.”
What are you up to now?
“I am currently working at the Native Women's Resource Centre of Toronto (NWRCT), where I began in 2019, shortly after graduating as the Client Centre Support Worker. After a year at NWRCT, I was promoted to the management team at the centre, where I am now the Program Assistant and work directly with the Program Manager on securing partnerships, collaborations while building the foundations of the programs offered to support Indigenous women and their children in the GTA. One thing that is really important to me while developing and adapting our programming at NWRCT, is to incorporate the 7 grandfather teachings and the framework the founders of the centre had in mind when it began in the mid 1980's.”