People of Georgian: Indigenous program reconnects consultant with heritage

What’s your story?

The Georgian community is full of unique, inspiring perspectives —and we’re sharing them as part of an ongoing series.

People of Georgian: Meet Sharon Rigby

To be completely honest, it’s been heartbreaking.

There’s family history my mom wasn’t willing to talk about, but the more I learned through my program at Georgian and asked those right questions of my mom, she’s been willing to share.

My heart breaks for her and for our people that went through that…

A black-and-white image of a person dressed casually with a scarf tied around their dark hair, smiling in front of Indigenous artwork they created.
Sharon is also featured artist at the Museum of Dufferin until March 29.

Returning to school changes everything

It all started when I went back to school later in life because I was working at a company where I couldn’t get any further without education.

I completed a business program at Georgian. It was fantastic. I had very inspiring teachers – inspiring enough that I went for the Human Resources Management post grad, which was not even in my game plan to begin with.

Then after that, I got a position in the Wiidookdaading Indigenous Resource Centre as a Niwijiagan, which is basically a peer mentor.

A person with long black hair, glasses and a black shirt, sits at a table and smiles.
Sharon is a two-time Georgian grad and a current student.
Two people sit in a restaurant in front of a bowl of desserts, and one person kisses the other on the cheek.
Sharon says her program at Georgian helped her become closer with her mother.

Georgian program reconnects Sharon with family history

I’m also Indigenous of Mohawk and Algonquin heritage and a bit far removed from my culture, so through working in that position, I really reconnected with my heritage.

I decided to come back for the Indigenous Community and Social Development program, and it’s been wonderful.

It has also helped me become a lot closer with my mother.

Part of the issue is when it comes to intergenerational trauma with Indigenous People, often nobody wants to talk about it, including my mother, who didn’t share many details of her childhood.  

An adult and a child sitting on their lap, both dressed all in red, smile at the camera.
Sharon as a child with her mom, pictured at age 19.

But through reconnecting with my culture and being in the Indigenous Community and Social Development program, it was like suddenly I had the ability to ask the right questions.

My mother started talking and suddenly I learned a lot more about my family history, which includes all the token markers: my mom’s part of the Sixties Scoop, I had a grandmother in residential school.

It’s a common theme that you hear more and more often now that the Indigenous community is ready to talk.

It’s been heartbreaking, but I think I am now better informed on how to be a supportive friend or ally for those people. It’s one of the many good things that have come out of attending Georgian.

Another big one was that I did the Traditional Woman’s dance at the Georgian College Traditional Pow Wow this year. They call it your “coming out dance.”

When I told my mother I was going to do it, her eyes lit up!

Two people stand together. One is dressed in a ribbon skirt, jean jacket and black, beaded hat, and the other is wearing a buckskin dress.
Sharon, right, and her mom at this year’s Georgian College Traditional Pow Wow.

Sharon’s journey comes full circle at Georgian Pow Wow

She was very big on saying I had to have a vision, I couldn’t just do it, so I worked very hard on having a vision, as hard as anyone could possibly work.

All winter I worked on my regalia. I sewed a buckskin dress and painted some things like turtles, in oranges and greens, on my regalia.

It’s a good reflection of me trying to be calm and soothing, where I just feel like I have a balance inside of me.

The Indigenous way is all about balance, and it just seems so balanced that I found my way back to my culture. I’ve come full circle.

Dancing for the first time at the Georgian Pow Wow seemed so fitting. This is the school that has supported me on my journey. They taught me what I didn’t know but, more importantly, Georgian taught me what I needed to know.

The Pow Wow was awesome, and it was a glorious coming out. I’m so proud of my Georgian community.

Sharon Rigby, a two-time Georgian alumna and current student in the Indigenous Community and Social Development program. She is also an Indigenous Employment Services Consultant for Career and Employment Community Services in Orangeville.

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