Country of Origin:
Racism/Discrimination, Aboriginal Issues, Human Rights & Social Justice, Identity & Heritage, Multiculturalism & Diversity
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Shawn Johnston is an Anishinaabe from Couchiching First Nation. He is the middle of three boys and was raised by his mother, a residential school survivor. Shawn identifies as two-spirit, an activist, and community organizer.
Shawn began his educational journey in 2008 at Lambton College in Sarnia, Ontario. Two years of hard work allowed him to walk across the stage and receive his Social Service Worker (SSW) diploma. He moved later that year to London, Ontario and worked on his Bachelor of Social Work (Honours) at Western University. Three years of persistence, and strong system of support, allowed him to receive his university degree. Shawn was determined to go further with his education and moved to Kitchener-Waterloo in the fall of 2013. He started to work on his Master of Social (MSW-AFS) in the Aboriginal Field of Study at Wilfrid Laurier University. Shawn will be receiving his Masters degree in the fall of 2014.
Shawn speaks to classrooms and conferences, both nationally and internationally, about the barriers he overcame in order to earn his education. He shares his personal story about growing with racism, homophobia, and an addiction to drugs and alcohol. Because of his community work as a mature student, he was recently presented with the Adult Learner Award from the London Council for Adult Education.
Shawn is also an organizer for Idle No More events both in the London and Kitchener-Waterloo communities.
As a youth, growing up would be a challenge because of the many obstacles I was faced with while trying to earn my education. Having to confront racism, homophobia, and bullying on a daily basis eventually took a toll on my mental health and I dropped out before reaching high school. At the age of 16, I left my community and moved to the City of Winnipeg in hopes of a better life. Earning my education was always a goal, but I didn’t know how to achieve it. I attempted to receive my GED but did not pass the exam. I then enrolled in the Centre for Aboriginal Human Resource Development (CAHRD) and earned a couple of credits. I could not support myself financially while going to school and was forced to drop out.
My dream of having an education was now placed on hold. Still haunted by the past, I became addicted to drugs and alcohol and this would consume the next ten years of my life. Like many, I had to “hit bottom” in order to admit I had a problem and needed help. With the help from family and friends, I sought the help I needed and got myself back on my feet. I found a new way of life and I have been walking that road ever since.
I came to the realization that my education had been on hold for too long and so I made the decision to enroll at Lambton College as a mature student. Being in the classroom again reminded me of how much of a passion I have for learning. In the summer of 2010, I walked across the stage and received my Social Service Worker diploma. Before I graduated, I knew I wanted to continue with my education and so I applied at King’s University College at Western University. Three years of hard work, and with the proper supports, allowed me to receive my Bachelor of Social Work (Honours) degree. After graduating, I relocated to Kitchener-Waterloo and started to work on my Master of Social Work – Aboriginal Field of Study at Wilfrid Laurier University. I will be convocating in the fall of 2014.
During my studies, I remain active through public speaking. I share my personal story of the obstacles I faced in order to earn my education. I talk about the supports that helped me on my journey and what my life is like today. I have spoken both nationally and internationally. Most recently, I presented at the World Indigenous Peoples Conference on Education in Honolulu, Hawaii.
I also identify as an activist and community organizer. The Idle No More movement helped me realize that I have an opportunity to help bring awareness to the issues impacting Indigenous people. I have organized Idle No More rallies and teach-ins both in the London and Kitchener-Waterloo communities. These peaceful events provide a safe space allowing for traditional singing and dancing, while allowing voices to be heard.