Red Rock Indian Band’s Ashley Nurmela, centre, participated in Confederation College’s Sept. 22 Alumni Speaker Series event along with two other speakers after earlier receiving a President’s Award and nomination for a Premier’s Award during the 50th Anniversary Homecoming Weekend celebration in Thunder Bay.

By Rick Garrick

THUNDER BAY – Red Rock Indian Band’s Ashley Nurmela was recognized with a President’s Award and a Premier’s Award nomination during Confederation College’s 50th Anniversary Homecoming Weekend in Thunder Bay.
“I’m so honoured — I was always raised to treat other people how you want to be treated,” says Nurmela, a Confederation College Native Child and Family Services graduate who is now employed as the Lakehead Public School Board’s First Nation, Metis and Inuit community liaison officer. “I never in a million years thought I would be commended for being a nice person, so for that I am humble.”

Nurmela organized three Stand Up Against Racism campaigns at Confederation College over the past three years. She was previously recognized in 2016 with an Advocacy and Activism Award at the 12th Annual Northwestern Ontario Aboriginal Youth Achievement and Recognition Awards for the Stand Up Against Racism campaign, which she began over offensive and racist posts on social media.

“This (upcoming) year it’s going to be on Friday the 13th in April,” Nurmela says. “We’re going to add a mental health piece called Speak Up. We’re going to launch Stand Up and Speak Up (Against Racism).”

Nurmela says the Native Child and Family Services program changed her life.

“I learned myself, I learned about histories, I learned about treaties,” Nurmela says. “I learned about humanity in general and what had taken place in our past.”

Nurmela says her work on the Stand Up Against Racism campaign created “many opportunities” for her.

“This college has really given me the knowledge to feel confident to get out there and do these things,” Nurmela says.

Nurmela also participated along with two other speakers — Sharla Brown and Ramesh Ferris — in Confederation College’s Alumni Speaker Series event on Sept. 22 during the Homecoming Weekend, which ran from Sept. 21-24.

“They talked about their own stories, their contributions to the social fabric of Thunder Bay, northwestern Ontario, but in a number of cases right around the world,” says Jim Madder, president of Confederation College. “They’ve been nominated for President’s Awards and Ramesh received the Premier’s Award (in 2013). We’re incredibly proud of what they’ve all done.”

The Premier’s Awards are presented annually to recognize college graduates from across Ontario in six areas: business, community services, creative arts and design, health sciences, recent graduate and technology.

“They are great stories and I’m very proud of who they are,” Madder says about the Premier’s Award nominees. “I’m often asked what’s the contribution of the college to northwestern Ontario and it’s easy to default to a financial number or actual numbers of graduates, but in reality it’s what each individual person does to glue us together.”

Former Fort William chief Georjann Morriseau was the last Confederation College graduate to be recognized with a Premier’s Award, in 2014.

The Homecoming Weekend also included two Indigenous Storytelling Circles, one for children and another for adults on Sept. 23 at the Firepit/Teepee area.