As a residential school survivor, Selkirk College student Running Wolf has dealt with numerous challenges as a result of a difficult start in life. With wisdom gained and determination a constant source of energy, the recent Heavy Mechanical Foundation Program graduate is committed to making a difference.
As he wrapped up the nine-month trades foundation program in early May, Running Wolf took time to head to Kelowna to volunteer his newly developed skills on a project that helps those who can’t afford proper vehicle maintenance. Put on by the Trinity Baptist Church as a community project, Car Care provided a free full safety inspection and oil change for 32 recipients.
Recent Selkirk College Heavy Mechanical Program graduate Running Wolf returned to school after a life filled with challenges as a result of the former residential school system. Having completed the first year of a four-year Red Seal education process, the Nelson resident is determined to make a difference.
“In my culture, I was raised with the importance of giving back,” says Running Wolf. “Everything that you have, you give back to show your appreciation. It’s very important to me. This was just one way I could do that and use what I have learned at Selkirk College.”
Residential School Experience Leaves Deep Scars
Running Wolf’s Inuit mother and French father met during the Second World War where she was nurse and he was a fighter pilot. After the war, the couple moved to Canada and Running Wolf was born in Labrador where his father learned to trap. His mother died when he was young and his father then married a Woodland Cree woman. When he was a young teen, Running Wolf was taken from his family and placed in a Quebec residential school.
Degraded and told he was not equal, the residential school experience was traumatizing for Running Wolf who was being raised in a traditional manner prior to being torn from his family. He spent the next few decades working odd jobs and struggling with the aftermath of the Canadian government’s former policy of assimilation.
Recent Selkirk College Heavy Mechanical Program graduate Running Wolf returned to school after a life filled with challenges as a result of the former residential school system. When he gets the opportunity, Running Wolf participates in Aboriginal events where he dances wearing regalia he made himself.
“I don’t talk about it in a bitter way because I am trying to put that part behind me,” says Running Wolf. “But it did happen and it’s important to learn from what I went through. If we speak about it, then people today will understand and history won’t repeat itself. Stories are important for Native people because that is where you learn… and that is part of healing.”
Having mostly worked basic labour jobs in the forest industry, restaurant industry and wherever else he could get a job, Running Wolf took a big step this past September when he returned to school. It wasn’t easy, but he credits Heavy Mechanical Instructor TJ Robinson’s ability to understand Aboriginal learners as a big part of his successful completion of the program.
“I took the course because I want to have a job and be able to work, but it’s more than that,” says Running Wolf. “I want to show to other Aboriginal people that came from residential school that this kind of education is not out of reach. I’ve been told a lot in my life that I’m not smart and that I would not amount to anything. It’s not a question about being smart, it’s about having the right person to teach you.”
Giving Back Part of the Healing Process
As he enters the next stage of his life with an eye on completing his journey to Red Seal certification, Running Wolf continues to speak with school students and other groups around the region about his residential school experience. With a background in traditional Cree dancing and regalia he made himself from hand, Running Wolf also provides education to young people about his culture.
While taking part in the Car Care program in Kelowna in early May, Running Wolf says it was a good opportunity to connect with people who face similar struggles that led him to this point in his life. He plans on continuing to get involved in similar projects whenever he has the chance.
“People really appreciated it, you could feel it was important to them,” he says. “It’s a good feeling to give back and get to know these people. I like to share my story because it’s a long road and it’s not always easy, but it’s really worth it. Having the courage to return to school was a big adjustment, but what you get at the end is worth it.”