Updated: Sep 23, 2020
My name is Ashley Rose Komangaapik Cummings. I’m Inuk from Pangnirtung, NU and I’ve been fortunate enough to live, work, and play across the country, from Kempt Road, Nova Scotia to Whitehorse, Yukon, where I’m currently located. I’d like to think I’m an artist, advocate, and storyteller to sum up my work!
My journey through post-secondary education started at Mount Allison University for my first two years, with my first semester of third year at Bishop’s University. I had made the decision to switch universities after my TEDx talk titled Unattau Aniniusaju that was delivered at BU. The energy of the university captivated me, with so many driven change-makers who had ambitious goals for themselves and their peers. In honesty, I think my TEDx talk went very poorly! I’ve accepted it as a lesson on how I can do things best: casually and in conversation. The experience of a very anxious TEDx talk has informed my future speaking opportunities, whether this is at the Arctic Circle Assembly in Reykjavik, Iceland, Canada House in London, UK, or the countless opportunities I’ve had to speak with tourists and youth across Canada.
Before I started my semester at BU, I had the fortune of joining the Prime Minister’s Youth Council. I have been able to participate in roundtables across Canada, interact with so many folks in politics, grassroots work, and youth like me. I often get emotional looking back on the fortune I’ve had throughout my time on the council, so many lovely people and stories that I will cherish for a very, very long time. In the beginning, however, it was a long process of essay questions before a video interview. My first application was rejected! I was disappointed, but not discouraged. I spent the time between my first and second application doing more of what I love - being involved in my community. I filled out my life with running workshops at Dorchester Penitentiary, working with fellow students at university, and working with non-profits and charities. All between classes! Once the second application rolled around, I felt much more capable to address the big questions that were posed to applicants. The Prime Minister and his team review each video interview to determine who joins the Council, and fortunately I got in.
The next few months felt like a whirlwind of opportunities. I was enjoying the new environment at BU, though due to my schedule I had a hard time making friends despite the lovely folks throughout the students and faculty. I feel particularly grateful for Dr. Jessica Riddell and Dr. Linda Morra and their warm support, they made my time at BU even more special. In this time, I’d also been appointed to the Kids Help Phone Indigenous Advisory Council and had joined Apathy is Boring as a board member. I had attended meetings in Toronto, Montreal, Halifax, Ottawa, and had met phenomenal folks with amazing stories. On top of the travels, I had to juggle my classes with endlessly understanding professors. I do not think gratitude is a strong enough word for the faculty (and their patience!) I had the pleasure of learning from during my time at BU.
With these new roles, I learned an incredibly valuable lesson: doing things at my own pace. Deadlines, meetings, all on top of university, became too much. My grades began to dip and for the first time, I failed a class. For a chronic overachiever, much like many of my family members and friends, it felt detrimental. I was overworking myself and the things I loved felt a little less bright. I decided to take a break from post-secondary despite my love for education and my dreams of becoming a mental health counsellor. I still feel as though I mourn that loss, even if it’s more of a rest. I have full intentions to go back to university but I do not think my lack of a degree defines me.
Despite these feelings of cognitive dissonance, imposter syndrome, and incredible anxiety, the brightness I felt I had lost returned. My term on the PMYC is coming to an end this September and I look back on my term with wholehearted fondness for the people I’ve worked with. I spent my time with Prime Minister Trudeau and wonderful colleagues advocating for Indigenous, rural, and Northern people and their wellbeing. I chose to do this in different ways, including economic wellbeing, healthcare/social wellbeing, and simply having these people included in the conversation. The initiatives that I focused on were supporting local hunters to do what they do best - feeding the people (I had given PM Trudeau dried moose meat that my ataata - father - had harvested and I helped process), insisting that the Canadians in the Northern and rural reaches of our country need to be involved in the conversations that inform the policy that affects us. To sum my work up, I see the people that need the government to hear their words. My work is informed by the people that had the time, care, and patience to sit with me in conversation as I try my hardest to bring their messages to the people I work with.
After I discuss my work, I often get the question “Why?” Why do I do what I do, why do I invest so much of my emotional labour into this, why? The answer feels very simple to me. I just want to help people. I want our voices heard, because I am a quiet, young Inuk woman that often gets spoken over. Sometimes I am not taken seriously. Sometimes I get interrupted, mid-sentence, for someone to tell me “You speak English very well.” Sometimes I get questions such as how much formal education do I have, what percentage Inuk am I, and how did I get so lucky to do what I do. These questions are ever-present in my work and personal lives and I still answer them, people are curious of course. Today I will answer the questions for you: I am Ashley, I am Inuk, and I work hard to be uncomfortable. My discomfort means one less person has a misconception about Indigenous people in Canada, one less person holds hate in their heart for hunters, and one more person sees the love I have for who I am and the work that I do. Finally, I hope you read this and love the individual journey you are on. Your path is different than mine but it is just as beautiful, but I hope it’s more linear than mine!