In the Changemaker blog series, we are spotlighting incredible individuals that embody our mission: working towards the greater good. These young Changemakers aren’t letting their age stop them from educating people of all generations on some of the most important issues in today’s society. By using their voices to promote social change, they represent the power that youth have to make a difference.
Shania is a 20 year old activist and blogger currently working at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. Shania uses her voice to educate others on homelessness, mental illness, and the challenges that Indigenous Canadians face everyday.
How did you start blogging and getting into activism?
When I was 15, I attended my first WE Day. Through that, I was able to meet Hannah Alper, who’s a speaker and blogger, as well. At the time, she was ten and she spoke at my school before WE Day. She told us what she did and how it made her feel, and I actually never imagined myself as a blogger. I remember just sitting back, listening to her talk, and I had two options...I could feel bad that this ten year old is doing things beyond me as a 15 year old, or I can use her story to ignite my spark and to get involved. That’s what I decided to do. We’ve been talking since that day and she inspired me to start my blog. The one question I had was, ‘what am I going to write about?’ So, I remember sitting at my kitchen table with my mom and aunt, just trying to think of what to write. The topic of racism came to me, mainly surrounding discrimination towards Indigenous people of Canada. That turned into way more than I expected. Today, I still write about Indigenous rights, but also homelessness and poverty, and youth empowerment. A big topic that I recently stared writing about what the MMIWG, the Missing Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls in Canada. I decided to turn my written work into action, so I started writing about ways to combat these issues. That’s kind of how the activism part came into it. I started to get involved with other Winnipeg-based activists, and I learned from them how I could get involved within my community. It’s been a really crazy five years.
Growing up as an Indigenous Canadian, what kind of specific challenges did you face?
I experienced a lot of things within my short life. I grew up with a single mom because we escaped domestic violence. We moved to Winnipeg from a small town in Manitoba called Dufferin, and we experienced a lot of poverty growing up and even homelessness at one point. That’s when we turned to women's shelters. That’s why I’m so passionate about homelessness and poverty, because I always want to remember where I came from. Just because of who I am today, I don’t want to act like nothing bad happened when I was younger. Hopefully my past experiences can inspire other people to believe that regardless of your personal situation, there’s always a time where you see the light at the end of the tunnel.
I know you talk about mental illness, and you actually lost your sister in grade 11 [to suicide]. Do you think that anything your sister faced tied into issues that face other Indigenous Canadians?
Well, I guess it would be hard to say because I don’t know what my sister would think. However, there’s something called the Residential School Generational Effect, and that’s definitely why there’s so many Indigenous youth today that are struggling to stay on path. It’s like a continuous cycle: their grandparents were in residential schools, not being able to have an adult figure to look up to, and that continues on in how they raised their children, and how their children raise their children. It’s something that still happens today. Not many people acknowledge that there’s still a generational effect happening. So I’ll say that it possibly could have, but it’s hard to say for sure.
How did your sister passing away change your outlook on life?
After I lost my older sister, I felt like I didn’t have a purpose in life. I felt like I couldn’t live because of the pain that I was feeling. After being told by so many people that life was so valuable, I tried to figure out how I could look at life in a different way. One of my favourite quotes is actually from Hannah Montana, and it’s ‘Life is what you make it, so make it right.’ I always tell people this at every speech I make, because it’s such a good quote. It’s something that I implicated into my everyday life and it helped change my perspective. I thought, if I was also to end my life, who would keep my older sister’s legacy alive? That’s what came out of the tragedy. It’s shaped me into who I am today. I know that if she was here, she would be really proud of what I was doing.
What is it that you think people don’t understand about mental illness?
One in four people deal with a mental illness in their life. Not many people realize that, which confuses me as to why it’s such a stigmatized topic. That’s pretty much it. There’s just an unnecessary stigma attached to the whole thing.
I saw that you were involved in the Youth Against Mental Illness Stigma (Peace of Mind 204). How did you get involved with that?
I spoke at WE Day two years ago and while there, I was able to meet a few youth. Loizza Aquino [Peace of Mind 204 founder] was one of the youth that I met and when she told me how she earned her way, I was really drawn to it. It was, in a sense, what I was trying to do: help bring down the stigma surrounding mental health and mental illness. After WE Day, we tried to connect but it took us about a year. My school invited me to attend one of the Youth Against Mental Illness Stigma (YAMIS) events and I was able to sit down and speak to Loizza for a couple minutes about ways we could work off of each other’s platforms. She asked me if I waned to join Peace of Mind 204 and I did for a while. At the next two YAMIS events, I was able to speak and it was such a cool experience. I read on the previous Joggo Blog interview with Loizza that she wants to introduce more chapters throughout Canada and I think that the vision of YAMIS is something that every youth should be involved in because it’s so important. It’ll really get the conversation started. She’s a really good friend and I’m really glad that she’s doing what she is because we need more people like Loizza.
When did you begin to see activism as what you needed to be doing?
There’s a saying, and it’s pretty eye opening for many people: if you’re born Indigenous or a minority in Canada, activism is already born within you. There’s so many issues that are affecting you, even as a newborn. For example, for a baby born on reserve, he already doesn’t have access to clean drinking water or will be underfunded for his education. So you’re born into it, it’s just up to you to do something about it. When I talk to other Indigenous youth activists, this is what they always tell me. When you’re asked why you started with activism, it’s hard to explain. When I was younger I was always angry because we didn’t have access to clean drinking water. As I got older, I realized that I have a voice and I can use it to help create change in my community. But I guess around 16 years old was when I realized that this is what I should be doing because it’s life-changing.
I know that you yourself actually want to be a politician, is that still the goal?
I’m actually really interested in two different things. You can have a regular career and when you’re ready, go into politics. A ‘real job’, asides from a politician, would probably be a journalist. I love writing and meeting people. It’s pretty much what I already do, so why not make a career out of it? When I’m ready, I do want to get into politics, but it’ll probably be federal politics.
Would you want to work on the reconciliation going on in the Indigenous communities?
Yes. My dream goal is to actually be Prime Minister of Canada. That’s what I would be aiming for, but also ensuring that Indigenous voices are heard within the federal government.
Where you do see yourself in the next three years in regards to your blog, activism, and work in general?
In the ideal next three years, I would either relocate to Toronto or Ottawa and continue staying involved with WE Charity. I would want to continue speaking to people across Canada and making sure that I’m having fun while I have the opportunities available. In regards to my blog, it’s crazy...I just checked this morning and it’s been read in 53 countries across the world. It’s crazy to think that I went from being someone with poor writing skills to having a blog that’s read in 53 countries. It’s surreal. I’ve been working with Nelson Education, as well. I was featured in Hannah Alper’s book and Nelson published the book, so I actually flew to Vancouver with them to film a short film about Indigenous youth activism, so in the next three years I would want to continue to work with them. I also want to stay connected to the places I’m currently connected with. I volunteer at nine organizations and I’m a Youth Ambassador for four, so I want to stay involved with them. I want to meet more people and hear more stories about how they got involved in activism. These stories inspire me to keep moving forward.
How do you hope to inspire others? What would you like people to take away from you do on a daily basis?
My mantra is ‘don’t ever stop writing your story, because you don’t know if your story is helping someone else write theirs.’ I hope that what people take away from my actions is the motivation to never end their own story. I want to help people lower the suicide rate across Canada, especially in the Indigenous community.
By taking control of her future and using her personal hardships as learning experiences, Shania has inspired countless others to do the same. In working to keep her sister’s legacy alive, she has created a life for herself that she never thought possible. To read more about Shania and follow her journey, visit https://shaniapruden.wordpress.com/.