Youth program workers know the value of education

Christina Kioke has fallen in love with education and wants to pass that love on.

It’s what started her back to school at the age of 32 to take the Northern College social services worker program, and it led to her nomination for a Premier’s Award for new graduates.

“I feel a lot of pride in being nominated for this award, and I’m just very proud of everything I was able to overcome,” said Kioke.

She will be traveling to Toronto in November for the celebration of the nominees. She plans to represent her experience and culture on the red carpet.

“It’s a little nerve-wracking,” she says. “I’ve reached out to one of my friends and she will be helping me design and create a ribbon skirt-style dress so I can represent our culture while dressing up for this event!”

Her journey to this nomination has involved a lot of community work and self-reflection.

“I was working at Living Space and I wanted to support the individuals who attend Living Space as a program worker, as an outreach worker, and as I was doing so I was coming from the perspective that I am an Indigenous woman with lived and living experience,” she says. “But as I was doing that, I realized that I could be doing more, that my expertise was limited to my personal experience.”

That was the moment she decided to pursue post-secondary education, and the social service worker program at Northern College opened a way to provide greater support to the community.

“Without that program, I wouldn’t be able to support and assist people the way I am today,” said Kioke.

She is a member of the Attawapiskat First Nation and has been working as the program manager for the Six Season Youth Program for Mushkegowuk Council.

“A lot of what I’ve gone through in my life is really relatable to a lot of the youth we see in our programming,” she says. “It does show that regardless of the life circumstances that we were forced to endure or go through, that we can be successful and choose life to create positive change in our communities.”

While the big awards and events are exciting, Kioke says her most fulfilling moments are the smaller ones with the students she works with.

She shared the story of one participant who asked her about the path to becoming a social worker.

“She came up to me and said ‘Christina, I really like what you are doing. What do I have to do to get a job like you so I can help people?’” she said. “It really showed me that we’re connecting with these youths and they see the value in what we do!”

She says there’s a lot of work coming up.

“We recognize that a lot of the youth in this community come from Northern communities to attend their secondary education, and there are kids who, maybe school is their safe space, so we’re providing them with mental wellness kits,” she says. “So it’ll include fun things they can do, activities they can do, but also information for support systems, and how they can get in touch with us and our programming so they have that continued connection.”

Kioke said the nomination for the award means that the work in the Six Seasons Youth Program is getting noticed and recognized.

“It really shows that the work that I’m doing with our urban Indigenous youth is being recognized,” she said. “And it shows that our program is really taking off and being able to support our youth in reducing the risk of suicide by providing them with a sense of belonging and identity within our community.”

This is not the first award for her academic achievements that Kioke has received as she was honored four times during her graduation in 2021-22.

“It was a lot,” says Kioke. “I kept having to go back up.”

She said that there was no limit for anyone to continue their education, and she hoped she would be shown that option.

“I want people to know that they have that option and they have that support,” she says. “It’s OK if you didn’t complete high school, you can still do that now. It’s OK if you didn’t pursue post-secondary right at 18, it’s not too late.”

Kioke’s trip back to education has not ended yet.

“I attended Northern when I was 32, I graduated when I was 34, so there’s always that opportunity to go back,” he says. “I fell in love with education, there’s always opportunities to learn and do more.”

Kioke is currently working on her Bachelor of Arts in public administration and governance through First Nation Technical Institute and Toronto Metropolitan University.

She says the main thing she needs to remember and that she wants to teach the students in her program is the importance of self-care.

“You can’t pour from an empty cup,” she said. “You need to be able to take care of yourself if you’re going to take care of others.”