By Laura E. Young
SUDBURY—When Joey-Lynn Wabie first launched her post-secondary education journey, she couldn’t decide what to do.
Over 20 years later, Wabie settles back with a Starbucks treat, purchased with gift cards she received after graduating in May with her doctorate in rural and northern health from Laurentian University. Her interdisciplinary PhD focuses on traditional Indigenous spiritual health.
Then in June, Laurentian hired her as an assistant professor in Indigenous relations, which is a full-time position after she was a sessional instructor, from 2011-17.
After high school, Wabie had tried office and business administration but didn’t like the math. Then she dropped out to care for her eldest daughter, who was younger at the time.
When her daughter was ready to start school, Wabie looked for courses that didn’t require math and enrolled in the social service worker program at Canadore College in North Bay.
Maintaining balance throughout has been key but it’s something for which to strive, she says.
“It’s a constant state of back and forth,” she says. “I understand the importance of education and my career, but also my family and who I am as an Anishinaabe kwe.
“When I am an old kokum with my grandchildren and great grandchildren around me, will I really wish I worked harder and stayed longer at work? Probably not,” notes Wabie. “I think having flexible work hours allows me take the time I need to take care of myself and my family when I need and want to.”
Strong family support is vital and something that needs to be nourished all the time, she believes. Her husband’s authentic support has made the difference.
She and Charles Lavallee have been together for over 17 years; they have three children, Julia, 22, Matthieu, 13, and Alex, 11.
“We are a great team and to get to where we are at in our life now was not always smooth, but we made it and are stronger for it,” she explains.
Wabie acknowledges that she has struggled with feeling like she is an imposter.
“When you couple that with living in mainstream society, it can feel a bit overwhelming. That is where the strong family base and support comes in. If I listened to the people who told me to quit when I would complain that it was too hard, I would not be where I am today.”
As well as her strong Sudbury ties, Wabie hails from a family of eight (she is the youngest) and a long extended family; she credits them all as being an important part of who she is as an Algonquin woman of Wolf Lake First Nation, in northwestern Quebec.
She is extremely close to her father. The respect he showed Joey-Lynn led to her choice for a life partner.
“I had a great role model to show me how to be treated.”
Yet, she remains uncomfortable with the term role model as it applies to her own life. She loves spending time with Anishinaabe women from all walks of life.
She looks up to all the “kweok,” the women who stay at home to raise their children with strong values, to those who work then go on the powwow trail, to those fostering others, to women struggling to find their place, looking to heal, she says.
She participates in various cultural practices and traditions back at her First Nation and in Sudbury, as an important part of self-care, she says.
“There are many things I do at home now which help me: smudging, cedar baths, drinking cedar tea, putting my ‘semaa’ down; I don’t have to go anywhere to do this,” she adds.
Wabie considers herself part of a large Indigenous community thriving in Sudbury. Many have come here for school, work, and other opportunities and although they are of different nations, they are all connected, she says.
They unite through ceremonies, social services, education, and by being about in the city.
“We have always been here as First Peoples of this land and will continue to exist as interconnected yet distinct and flourishing nations.”
Wabie also has an undergraduate degree (2005) and a master’s degree in social work (2011).
Editor’s Note: What’s in a role model? Who is a role model? Is it a cliché? Is it patronizing or do so-called role model stories become necessary to balance the tide of negative stories? In this ongoing series, Ontario’s Indigenous women reflect on that term role model when they have a moment between their work serving in education, health, justice, and social work.