Integrated Policy Officer
Photo Cred: Red Works
Provide a brief general introduction about yourself.
My name is Yolanda Wanakamik and I am a member of the Whitesand First Nation. I was raised in a small northern community called Armstrong Station. I married my husband 17 years ago, and we have two busy boys aged 15 and 12. I work for Dilico Anishinabek Family Care in Thunder Bay as the Integrated Policy Officer. Dilico Anishinabek Family Care was established in 1986 by the Robinson Superior Treaty Chiefs and today is an Agency serving in the areas of mental health and addictions, and child welfare.
What does your daily job entail?
I have had many careers in my lifetime, and each one has involved a level of social justice, education, health, wellbeing, and community. Today I write and complete research to assist an organization working for the health and wellbeing of our communities and people. I approach my work from a lived experience, and always strive to arrive at it positively. Working with and for our people can be challenging. Thick skin, a strong mind, good friends, supportive family, and a good support network is required. My heart has always told me I have to work for and with our people in whatever capacity I am capable. As a result, I have never given up on any challenge. I experienced many difficulties in my journey and always reached out to talk about them with friends and family who could help me.
How did you get to where you are today?
I left home when I was 13 years old to attend high school in Thunder Bay. I was by no means the brightest student, and I struggled, I still struggle. I found my way in the city with the support of the Thunder Bay Indigenous Friendship Centre, the Northern District Area School Board counsellors, Whitesand First Nation leadership, education staff and many invested high school teachers at my high school who made my four years easier. I was very involved with many student lead initiatives, which kept me busy and out of trouble for the most part. I made lasting friendships that I maintain today in both a personal and professional capacity.
I graduated high school with college-level courses which allowed me to take the Social Service Worker Program at Confederation College. When I graduated, I returned to Whitesand seeking work and accepted a position as a Family Support Worker. After a year I decided to give university another try and applied to the Political Science Program at Lakehead University, imagining this would be a pathway to law school. After completing my degree, I returned to Whitesand to seek employment and to apply my learning to my First Nation. I contemplated a career in law, however, I was not prepared to commit another four to six years to school. Fast forward to today, my yearning to learn more struck again. Now, I am currently enrolled in a Master’s Program at Lakehead University.
What financial opportunities did you use and what was the process?
My First Nation funded my college and undergraduate degree, and I am eternally grateful for the opportunity to have my education and the financial support to do this. As a college and university student, I worked part-time at odd jobs to make ends meet. I also had roommates who rented apartments with me to share the cost of living.
How do you keep developing your skills in your career?
I develop who I am personally, professionally, spiritually, and emotionally by always checking in with me and asking myself the question of what’s next. I try new things, go to new places and put myself out there to try new experiences. I read a ton of news, books, project work, and social media and try to stay on top of the things that matter to me. Opportunities for my employment have given me considerable professional development. When training and development are offered, I take it!
Who or what has inspired and motivated you?
I could not count on one hand how many people have motivated and inspired me! So many wonderful mentors from all walks of life have touched me in many ways. My grandmother lived a tough life and was always kind and loving. As a young girl, she told me the only way things would change for our people was through getting a good education and learning all that we can to help our people. My parents supported and encouraged me to be and do anything I wanted too. They never placed any limitations on me and always said I could do and be anything my heart desired. My brother provides me with unconditional love and admiration. My husband and children allow me to be the person I am and support me in all that I take on. Countless other friends and family members encourage and love me for who I am and inspire me with their lives and stories.
Outside of work, what kind of things do you do to take care of yourself?
I keep my mind, spirit, and body well by balancing the four directions; physical, mental, spiritual and emotional. I am a runner, I love yoga, I work on eating a balanced diet, I meditate, and I talk a lot to find the balance in my life. I also attend as many of my children’s sporting events which ground me. In between the busy days, my husband and I make some time for us where possible. We always say when the boys are grown up we will have the luxury of time for one another.
What do you still hope to achieve?
With a college diploma, university undergraduate degree and work on a master’s degree. I still want to get to a PhD because of my love of learning, research and teaching. One day, I would like to teach at a university, and it is okay if I am sixty when it happens!
What would you like to share with the youth reading this?
There is nothing that can hold you back! Education is the most important thing you can invest in for yourself. You are capable of anything with hard work and dedication. You will have to give up some things as a young man or woman to achieve your goals, but in the end, it will all be worth it. Education can take you anywhere to do anything! I genuinely believe in the power of education and its strength to move us forward in a good way. It will challenge us and bring so many personal and community rewards. We are stronger together!