Nekiiyaas Noakes

Manitoulin Island, Ontario

Confronting Racism in School

What needed to change:

Nekiiyaa Noakes, a Grade 11 Anishnaabe student on Manitoulin Island in Ontario, was sitting in her high school’s office when she overheard one office staff member make a racist comment about Indigenous youth to another staff member. The person who’d made the remark didn’t notice that Nekiiyaa was in the room.

Nekiiyaa was shocked. She didn’t know what to do, but she knew that she had to do something to take a stand against that kind of racism in her school.

Putting her message out there using social media:

Nekiiyaa decided to post the incident to Facebook: “Sitting in the office, guess they didn’t notice I was sitting there. The one secretary said to the other one ‘these damn Native kids are always getting stuff for free, and they don’t care about anything, just like all the other Natives.’ C’mon now…seriously?” The response that Nekiiyaa got across Manitoulin Island was huge. Lots of online conversation followed, and people suggested that she bring the incident to the attention of her principal. So she did.

Contacting decision makers:

Nekiiyaa spoke to the principal. At first, she wasn’t too encouraged by the conversation. But in the days that followed, the principal reported the incident to the school board, and the school board began speaking with the media. In the local paper, the Chair of the school board said, “That kind of comment is absolutely not acceptable. There is absolutely no room in our schools for this type of comment.”

Success! Working with First Nations to organize response:

The school board said that to figure out how to move forward and make sure that kind of racism wouldn’t happen in their schools again, they reached out to the 11 First Nations in their communities to hear what they thought would be an appropriate response. At the least, the incident would be included in future anti-racism training.

For her part, Nekiiyaa didn’t necessarily want to see the employee fired – she wanted to stand up against racism: “Racism isn’t needed in an educational environment filled with Aboriginal students. It’s just degrading and insulting.”

Nekiiyaa’s advice:

“There’s so many points of view, but stick to what you believe in & don’t be shy to let your voice be loud. A little change can make a big difference!”