By Nicole Yermus
This month, we are honored to feature Dawn Maracle, a Mohawk woman from Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory who sits with the Bear Clan. Dawn has been a part of the Institute for Change Leaders (ICL) since its inception when it was called the “Jack Layton Leadership School.” When Dawn first got involved with ICL, she would welcome participants with traditional openings and land acknowledgments. Since then, Dawn and her story have become integral to ICL’s fabric.
Dawn is incredibly well-versed in Indigenous education, with over thirty years of experience working and collaborating with Indigenous communities, organizations, campaigns and governance structures locally, regionally, nationally and internationally. She holds numerous degrees including a Bachelor of Arts (honours) from Trent University in Native Studies, a Bachelor of Education from the Aboriginal Teacher Education Program at Queen’s University, and a Master’s of Adult and Aboriginal Education from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto. Dawn also plans to finish her Doctorate in the same department at OISE in the near future.
“My mother says I came out of the womb an activist”, Dawn says. From the young age of six years old, Dawn was passionate about community engagement and carried that passion into all of her work. Dawn has gained experience in many roles over the years as a teacher/professor, facilitator, consultant, senior advisor, board member, corporate trainer, and professional speaker. In each of these roles, Dawn emphasizes the importance of connecting people together through the power of storytelling, a key aspect in all of ICL’s training.
Photo courtesy of Pheasant Lane Photography.
While Dawn has been a cultural storyteller for decades, and has a background as a Coordinator of storytelling and music festivals for many years, there is something different about learning to tell one’s own story. “The first story that I learned to tell is as a result of the Institute for Change Leaders,” Dawn says, “and it’s one I continue to use today.” Dawn has used her own storytelling knowledge to help others find their own voices, and through her own storytelling, Dawn has been able to amplify the damage that colonization has had on herself and Indigenous peoples. She mourns the many stories she has lost out on hearing because of colonization, and recognizes the generational effect that this has had on Indigenous folks generally, and the impact on her of her Mohawk family more specifically.
When asked which issues she feels most passionate about, Dawn speaks about kindness & social justice, culture and the arts, and violence against Indigeous women. She reflects on her experiences as a young girl growing up in an environment characterized by domestic violence. At fifteen years old, Dawn was living on the streets; thankfully, she found security and support in school and Aboriginal student services. During this time in her life, there were a select few folks who showed her kindness and compassion, which ended up making all the difference. Those who showed her support also taught her the importance of building a safe community.
While Dawn has many responsibilities including being a single mother, she also tries to take advantage of her spare time engaging in various hobbies and artistic practices. Dawn is an accomplished writer who has published work in four different countries, and aspires to write her own novel as well! Beyond that, Dawn loves to dance and has a background in professional cheerleading. She currently serves as the National Co-director for the Toronto Argo Cheerleading Alumni for the CFCAO and as a Director on the Board for TO Live, managing three of Toronto’s theatres. She is a recent recipient of the National Day to End Racism and Discrimination, and is the President and CEO of Dawn T Maracle Consulting, where she advises companies on Inclusivity, Diversity, Equity and Accessibility (IDEA), Indigenous hiring, retention and advancement, corporate and board training and Indigenous safety training.
Looking towards the future, Dawn is incredibly hopeful. She even runs a non-profit organization called HOPES Indigenous Training Network, which stands for Healing Our People Through Education and Social Justice. Ultimately, hope for Dawn is education beyond a classroom setting. Dawn quotes the Honourable Justice Murray Sinclair, Chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, saying “education got us into this mess and education will get us out of it.” Dawn says that it took many generations to pull Indigenous peoples and settlers out of relationship with each other, and therefore, it will take time, effort, and education to put us all back into relationship with one another. With donations, grants and collaborations, Dawn hopes to bring her training and skills to Indigenous youth, communities and organizations to pay it forward to the next generations to continue conversations, education and employability and relationship-building so that work toward reconciliation may become a greater reality.