The World of Maxine Noel
I was born in Manitoba of Santee Oglala Sioux parents. I spent my early childhood on my mother’s reserve, but at the age of six was forced to attend an Indian residential school. I continue to be active in presenting this terrible history to students throughout Canada.
In 1964, I moved to Ontario where I settled into a career as a legal secretary. I was encouraged by those I worked with to consider taking up law myself. They saw my passion and that I cared about the values of justice and fairness, but after several years in that setting, I realized that the legal system was still a broken thing, in particular in the way it addresses my people’s needs and values. Had I stayed in that setting, I knew it would end up making me bitter and angry, which is not what I knew we needed to make the changes my people, and all of the communities we live in, need.
During my time with lawyers, I was asked to run the Ininew Native Friendship Centre in Cochrane, Ont. While the Ininew Friendship Centre had been established to provide a safe place for First Nations peoples, I quickly realized that it had become a crisis intervention centre, but without the tools needed to address those crises. Working with the Cree of Northern Ontario, I began to see a direction in my life towards community engagement and healing.
It was art, however, that would bring that direction into focus.