A Reflection of My Experience with the 4Rs
written by Mariah Palin-Russell
written by Mariah Palin-Russell
Mariah Palin-Russell writing a letter to herself from the future at the 4Rs National Learning Community closing retreat in March 2018
I am originally from Ottawa, Ontario and relocated unexpectedly to Cold Lake, Alberta in 2013. I was hesitant to move from what was comfortable but it turns out, 5 years later, that this was the right choice for me in order to see what other opportunities could be available to me. I quickly began exploring my Indigenous side, as many of my mothers’ side of our family are registered members to Cold Lake First Nations. I worked my way up and landed a job as a Case Manager for Income Support in the community and from there my career took me for a wild ride. I found a passion in helping those who were having difficulty helping themselves and needing both temporary and long-term assistance.
I dove headfirst into helping youth ages 18-24 to get off of Social Assistance through obtaining employment or embracing training opportunities. It was a challenge to get the young people to see beyond their everyday lives of struggle, beyond what was comfortable, and to gain the capacity to see amazing possibilities outside of the reserve. I had to simultaneously find ways for my clients to put trust and faith in me as I was an outsider but I strived to find ways to use that to my advantage because I have real firsthand stories to tell.
I began to explore outside agencies to assist with both my professional development as well as advancement opportunities for the youth in my community. Eventually, I discovered the 4Rs. I received an e-mail about getting together with youth across the country to navigate discussions surrounding reconciliation. I was ecstatic to be able to get the chance to meet others who might be able to provide input and even more resources to help me to help the young people I was working for.
My application was approved and I was invited out to Rama First Nations in Ontario! I was so nervous being alone and not really knowing what to expect – but I quickly made friends and we quickly got to talking. The retreat was an eye-opener. For whatever reason, I was not expecting so many of us from different backgrounds and experiences, ‘strangers’ if you will, to be facing similar challenges and yet we all had a common goal of helping even if we had lived thousands of miles apart from each other. This was really the key for me during our time together. I felt comfort in knowing that although we are all so different; we are all very much the same! I didn’t feel so alone anymore. I felt a huge sense of refreshment and desire to return to my community and to continue uplifting my people.
Fast-forward to this year, 2018. I was invited to return to be with the 4Rs group again but this time around we were brought out to Mono, Ontario. I was so honoured to be apart of the experience again. It was exciting to see many faces from the year prior as well as a few new ones! I had quite an advantage to able to sit and take notes as other teams from the National Learning Community presented the outcomes of their own gatherings throughout the year. This presentation piece of the retreat was another piece of the puzzle for me in terms of motivation to continue doing the work I do back at home. It was yet another reminder that we all face similar issues but that we still all have that common goal. Issues when doing work in the community may include: how to get participants to join or become engaged, how to get ideas across in a meaningful way, who is our target audience, etc. This is when I was able to truly understand my role as a Seedsaver. I was able to take bits and pieces of each presentation to positively mould into ideas that work for my youth at home.
I know that I have been speaking about my work in past tense. That is because I am about to introduce new life into the world in only a couple of weeks and I will be taking a long break to raise my child. I believe that my introduction to motherhood was greatly impacted in a positive way by attending the second retreat. Everyone around me including the 4Rs staff were so accommodating. I heard so many amazing stories about people overcoming difficult situations and it inspired me. It was a friendly reminder that I too, came from a life of struggle but I have overcome. It forced me to look at my new role of becoming a parent in a new light… to pass all of this knowledge to my daughter, to shape her into being a productive member of our society, and to ensure that she knows the value of reconciliation.
I would like to thank everyone involved in including me in the experience. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity that I often look back on. I’m glad that I have made friends with many other participants from all over the country and that we can keep in contact and continue to share ideas. Attending the retreats with the 4Rs has been a really valuable experience for me.