Unique demands, uplifting support

·3 min read

Kelly Kristin couldn’t find classmates who related to her challenges as an Indigenous mother raising a young child while attending university, so she ventured beyond her Winnipeg campus to create a support hub for like-minded parents.

One year later, Kristin is celebrating the growth of Indigenous Parents Community — a not-for-profit she launched in the fall of 2021 to connect mature students and recent graduates who are balancing their caregiving responsibilities with career aspirations.

“I would describe it as a community that is there for the Indigenous parents to feel at home, so they can develop their personal and professional skills,” said the founder of IPC.

“We’ll cheer you on when you have an exam. We’ll cheer you on, even if you fail.… It’s a community of support, no matter what you’re going through.”

Upwards of 50 parents have joined the collective to seek mentorship, networking opportunities and skill-building workshops.

Kristin, 34, said the next wave of employees to enter the professional workspace should be Indigenous parents, citing their time-management expertise, composure and resilience, among other key skills they carry by virtue of being caregivers.

It was in 2015 when Kristin, a single mother juggling a retail job at the time, decided to enrol in the University of Winnipeg’s bachelor of business administration.

The business student said she felt she could not be an active mother if she was constantly doing shift work. She credits her parents for both supporting her to pursue post-secondary education and her entrepreneurial spirit.

Not long after beginning her studies, Kristin said she quickly realized the university experience — in-person instruction, scholarship eligibility and everything in between — is tailored to meet the needs of teenagers and 20-somethings.

“There are so many classes scheduled around (daycare or school) pick-up time, around 3:30 p.m. or 4 p.m. There’s just no inclusion for people who are parents. It’s all aimed for the 18 year old who’s fresh out of high school, and it’s very frustrating,” she said.

Kristin primarily takes evening and asynchronous courses; she completes most of her academic work between 11 p.m. and 2 a.m., after her workday is done and her daughter is asleep.

The business student expects to graduate in the spring, with her only child in the audience. “I want that for other parents,” she said.

IPC’s free virtual workshops cover subjects ranging from cover-letter writing to interviewing skills. Kristin also plans to partner with community organizations to offer in-person study groups with childcare coverage and create a scholarship for mature students who are First Nations, Métis and Inuit.

Creating a space for people to reconnect to their culture is a key part of the collective for Kristin, a Cree woman who is originally from Shamattawa First Nation but grew up in the child-welfare system before being adopted by a family in Winnipeg. She wants to invite an elder to lead future workshops.

Tamarah Todd, a mother of two, was among the first informal and, later, formal members of IPC.

“I would’ve felt very overwhelmed (without Kristin). I don’t even know if I would’ve made it,” said Todd, adding it was validating for her to be able to swap stories and seek advice from a friend in a similar situation when she went back to school to obtain a registered dental assistant certificate in 2019.

While Todd, who is Ktunaxa from Lower Kootenay Band, credits IPC for helping her land a new job, she said the sense of community she has found among other Indigenous parents in the group is just as important as the resumé advice she has received.

A quarter of Indigenous residents in Winnipeg have a post-secondary certificate, diploma or degree, per recent census data.

Maggie Macintosh, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Free Press