IPS Youth Voices February 2022

By Shae Zamardi

March of 2020 I was laid off from my job in the entertainment industry, working as a traveling acrobat with Cirque Du Soleil. Being employed as a professional acrobat with one of the most prestigious international circus and entertainment companies had been a dream of mine since I was twelve years old. Getting to live the circus life, performing in front of thousands of people, in a massive tent was an everyday adrenaline rush that I wanted to pursue for at least a few more years of my early twenties. Getting the news of our shut down due to COVID was heartbreaking, but also left the door open for new employment and life opportunities in Victoria.

I hadn’t lived at home or on the island since I was 12. I had been traveling and living in different places for gymnastics, so I saw this as a chance to soak up being home, self-reflect, learn more about myself, my community and look for employment where I could learn and grow at the same time. And learn and grow I did…

To provide you with some of my back story, I am Indigenous on my Mother’s side, and Dutch on my Father’s side. My Mother said she always saw my Mohawk blood running through my veins a little stronger than the other parts of me, because I was fearless and determined in everything that I did. I really was just like my Grandma. Strong, powerful, fearless, and relentless. She never gave up on anything she did, and she did everything, whole heartedly. I got those qualities from her.

Shae Zamardi performing in Cirque du Soleil

We didn’t know much about my Grandmother until she was older and her days on earth with us were coming to an end. She began to share stories and to open up to my Mother about horrific events that took place while she was in ‘school’ and at the ‘orphanage’ , which was a Residential School. She went into heart wrenching detail about parts of her life that had been buried deep inside of her tiny soul for years. She had numbed her grief, and trauma. When my Grandmother passed, we were determined to find where she came from and find out who we were. Five years after her passing and another 20 years before that of trying to piece together all the small bits of information we had gathered, we determined where my Grandmother’s family had been buried. This concluded that we weren’t Cree or Ojibwe, we were Mohawk. Since that day, my family has visited the lands of our people and we continue to learn about our culture and teachings. Finding my identify as an Indigenous and Mohawk woman helped me understand who I am. It also helped me understand that I wanted to learn more and Indigenous Perspectives Society: Centre of Excellence in Community Education (IPS) helped me do that.

Working at IPS over the last year and a half has provided me with so many opportunities, to expand my knowledge about my people, and the other nations my colleagues come from. IPS has given not only myself, but everyone who walks through those doors a sense of community, opportunity to be their unique selves, to learn and educate themselves, and holds space for others. I have never worked with more thoughtful, kind and open-minded individuals. I believe that to grow, learn and become who we are, we need to be given the space to do so. IPS allowed me to grow in my position, giving me the freedom to be creative, make mistakes, and to explore my identity through the important work that we were doing. I look back at myself a year and a half ago and I see growth, knowledge and healing. Having the sense of community during the difficult time we suffered last year with the unveiling of all the precious lives that were taken by the Residential School system was extremely hard for everyone and I am grateful to have had my IPS family.

A lot can happen in over a year, and the growth I have seen IPS achieve is outstanding.  Although all good things come to an end, IPS will remain in my heart forever. It is quite amazing that even though I am moving forward with a new career, I can remain part of the IPS family, continuing to volunteer and participate in teachings and discussions. I thank my IPS family for helping me become a strong Indigenous Woman! Embracing all the beautiful parts of our people and culture. My identity and stepping into HER (a strong Mohawk woman) has been an incredible journey to experience with you all by my side.

Shae Zamardi in Cirque du Soleil show make up