Statistics indicate that Aboriginal people have a higher risk for not finishing school, unemployment, to be victims of domestic violence, and are over represented in the justice system compared to the general population.
While not disputing the statistics, Harriet Hird says statistics don’t justify racist comments, bullying, or having store clerks follow you around just because you are First Nations.
“I am more than a statistic,” Hird says. “Stereotyping doesn’t help anyone.
“We are not all statistics. There are successful Aboriginal people in this community.”
As a young teen, Hird did have a period in her life when she was part of a statistical trend among First Nations teens to quit school early.
Born and raised in Williams Lake Hird quit school in Grade 9.
After her daughter and son were born she decided that an education was important so she returned to school as a mature student, while continuing to work and raise her family.
She started working on her high school Dogwood certificate in 2005 and graduated in 2006, then in 2007 earned a Human Service Certificate at TRU in Williams Lake.
She continued her education graduating in 2009 with the two year human service worker diploma/community and school support worker certification.
From there she earned a Bachelor of Social Work degree in 2012 from the University of Northern British Columbia in Prince George. The Cohort program through UNBC allowed her to live here in Williams Lake, while taking courses on line through UNBC in Prince George and spending time between Quesnel, and TRU to earn her degree.
Hird is grateful to the Ulkatcho band for providing financial help for her higher education and the fact that the Ulkatcho Chief attended her graduation and honoured her success with a plaque and a ceremonial feather.
Hird has worked for the RCMP Victim Services program for the past five years.
She is program manager for RCMP Victim Services which provides support for families and individuals who are victims of violence. She works with Cheryl Jacques who is the caseworker.
There are three volunteers in the program who she says can be called by the RCMP at any time of day to assist victims of domestic violence, a criminal act, or other incident including sudden deaths.
She and her team provide initial emotional support for victims of violence and then referrals are forwarded to appropriate resources in the community.
They may refer the individual or family to a counsellor, provide orientation information on what to expect in court, support victims during the court process, and help victims to fill out forms for financial assistance.
Hird also leads empowerment groups in First Nations communities that address issues such as domestic violence, effects of domestic violence on children, gang violence, sexual assault, self care, managing stress, grief and loss, and other topics, such as human trafficking.
The empowerment groups meet once a week for 12 weeks. The sessions also include guest speakers in specialized areas of social and health services.
Hird also teaches a two-night, two-week course on Internet safety for both teens and adults which is included in the 12 week empowerment group.
Last year Hird held empowerment group sessions at the Toosey and Alkali communities. She hopes to initiate empowerment groups in two more First Nations communities in the region within the next few months.
She is also one of five facilitators and trainers for the Restorative Justice program.
More and more today Hird says First Nations people are finishing their educations and achieving success in their lives, and that is where people need to focus their attention.
She says everyone can help to end racism, bullying and stereotyping by becoming a positive role model for change.
“Do something,” she implores. “We need to focus on the positive and stop focusing on the negative. Become a volunteer. Teach someone something positive.”
In addition to her paid work, Hird is also an active volunteer.
She is a member of the Community Policing Board which oversees Crime Stoppers, Citizens on Patrol, the Restorative Justice program and other Community Policing Programs.
She also volunteers with Big Brothers and Big Sisters as an in-school mentor.
“If I had a little more support as a teenager I might not have quit school early,” Hird says.
Weekends, Hird says she and her husband, Steve Roi, who works for West Fraser, and their children, now 13 and 16, enjoy getting out in nature.
She applauds CMHA’s Dirty Laundry Campaign for working to end racism.
“It is a very unique campaign about a subject that is not often talked about,” Hird says. “Hopefully it will raise awareness about racism.”