“Something that I'm planning to get tattooed is the word 'misunderstood' because the day that I was born I became political, and I had no choice.”
Former Thompson resident Brielle Beardy-Linklater spoke these words during the Jan 4 episode of CBC Radio’s Ideas podcast, which served as the culmination of a very busy year in the life of this 23 year-old activist.
To start, Beardy-Linklater made history in March 2017 by becoming the first Indigenous transgender woman to take a seat in Parliament.
Beardy-Linklater got this opportunity through representing the federal riding of Churchill-Keewatinook Aski in the Daughters of the Vote initiative, which attracted 338 young women from across the country to participate in the political process by filling every seat in the House of Commons.
“I would say it was very life-changing for me, personally,” she said in a Feb. 26 conversation with the Thompson Citizen. “Coming from our small town in the north, going to Ottawa, and then sitting in Parliament, getting to actually be at the centre of where we follow laws and policy … I don’t know how to describe it, but it was a lot to take in.”
From there, the Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation member took another big step in her journey by enrolling in a political science degree program at the University of Manitoba in the fall of 2017.
This change was a lot easier said than done, since she didn’t have a real place to stay in Winnipeg and resorted to couch-hopping for the first couple months before finally finding a permanent place to live.
Even with a roof over her head, Beardy-Linklater is still struggling to find a balance between her academic responsibilities and extracurricular pursuits, like participating in a Feb. 23 march to honour the memory of Tina Fontaine.
“It’s the most difficult time that I’ve ever gone through,” she said. “Because being at university I’m still trying to work a job and still trying to participate in this community in Winnipeg.”
While Beardy-Linklater previously mentioned that her end goal was to help members of the Indigenous community through getting into politics, she’s since shifted her aspirations away from the realm of elected office.
“I’ve been broken down and beaten by the whole political aspect of the #MeToo era,” she said, referencing accusations of harassment and assault that have been lobbed at several high-profile Canadian politicians, including current Manitoba NDP leader Wab Kinew.
“A lot of that had a significant impact on my mental health, because all the talk about women being harassed in the workplace, it made me second-guess what I want to.”
Instead, Beardy-Linklater is hoping to bring about change through social work that focuses on harm reduction policies and the treatment of mental illness.
While the NCN member is no stranger to seeing Indigenous peoples suffer through these societal issues here in Thompson, she said it’s on a whole different level in Winnipeg’s West End.
“There’s a lot of poverty and a lot of gang activity and a lot of police violence,” she said. “It’s pretty active all the time where I live. There’s a lot of things that happen and you have to have your guard up and you have to look out and be careful who you interact with, because there’s definitely a lot of people who are in survivor mode here.”
With all these new experiences under her belt, Beardy-Linklater is committed to returning to Thompson in around five years’ time and use everything she’s learned in the classroom and on the streets to bring about the betterment of the Indigenous community.
After all, now that Aboriginal people living in urban centres represent the fastest growing segment of the Canadian population, Beardy-Linklater said that places like the Hub of the North are going to need plenty of strong community leaders when that demographic shift really takes hold.
“I feel like if there’s anybody that can communicate that to our community in Thompson that it would be me,” she said, “Because I grew up there. It’s my community and I know so much about this place, and the history behind Thompson, and it would be an honour to have pushed the change to be more progressive.”