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Jennifer’s Story

Discovering Ceremony & Tradition Leads to Healthy Path for Mother of Six

Growing up in Toronto’s Cabbagetown neighbourhood, Jennifer Downie struggled to fit in. At school, she was picked on because of her Indigenous roots. And although her father was Eagle Village First Nation of Quebec, her family did not participate in many Indigenous traditions at home. Jennifer suppressed her identity because she only heard the negative stories in the news and at school. She was ashamed to let others know her background.
Years went by and Jennifer struggled with both alcohol and mental health challenges. Her anxiety was crippling and prevented Jennifer from moving forward. One day, in September 2013, Jennifer walked into Anishnawbe Health Toronto and asked to see a Counsellor. She had walked by the Centre for over 10 years but was always afraid to go in because she didn’t know her own culture. That day was different from all the rest, “I wanted to make a change. I was ready to do something with my life and I needed to know my traditions and I needed a path.” Jennifer was quickly set up with a Counsellor who also had her own experiences with anxiety. “She made me feel comfortable and she listened,” says Jennifer “other health centres I had visited never asked about my background. I was never offered Indigenous support services.”
From that first Counsellor meeting things moved very quickly. By October 2013, Jennifer was enrolled in an Anishnawbe Health training program. Her days were filled with social sciences, traditional teachings, Elder teachings and sweat lodge ceremonies. “I wanted to learn everything” Jennifer remembers. After completing the program, Jennifer planned to continue her education and joined the Anishnawbe Health Centre’s Community Health Worker Program. Currently, Jennifer is in her fourth year, in the Ryerson Social Worker Program and her placement is with Anishnawbe Health working directly with a Circle of Care social worker. Most recently Jennifer found out she was accepted to the University of Toronto’s Factor-Inwentash Indigenous Trauma and Resiliency Masters of Social Work program for Fall 2020.
How has life has changed over the last seven years, for this wife and mother of six children? “Because of Anishnawbe Health, I’ve finally found what was missing in my life. I’ve learned the traditions of my ancestors and I’ve brought them into my home. I’m giving my kids a good foundation to understand who they are. I still have anxiety but I never in a million years thought I would be working in social work and actually talking to people. My personality has changed. My thought process has changed and how I view people and society has changed.”
Today, Jennifer holds her head high and feels proud of her accomplishments. She wants others to feel the same. When asked why others should support a new home for Anishnawbe Health she says “The Indigenous community is growing in Toronto. We need our traditional practices. We need to feel safe and we need it all in one space.”
For more information on how you can support clients and staff at Anishnawbe Health, like Jennifer, please visit our campaign page here.