When Jenica Atwin was still in elementary school she built a traditional Wolastoqiyik longhouse with the guidance of her stepfather Ron Tremblay, now the Wolastoqiyik Grand Council chief. Although non-Indigenous, Atwin was always captivated by Wolastoqiyik culture.
Now Atwin, 31, is channeling that same energy into her political run as the Green Party candidate for the New Maryland-Sunbury riding and she’s still blending her family’s influences. Her father Bob Powell is the mayor of Oromocto, her husband Chris Atwin is a band councillor in Welamukotuk, Oromocto First Nation., her step-father is the Wolastoqiyik Grand council chief and her mother is a retired teacher.
The Atwins grew up together and Jenica has watched Chris experience racism and felt helpless. Now, the couple has two sons and Atwin hopes education can change things for her boys.
“You hear all the time people say you’re never going to get rid of racism and I agree that it will always be there, but I don’t accept that,” said Atwin. “And I will do everything I can do to work against that.”
Atwin spent years as a cultural transition coordinator with the First Nation Education Initiative Inc. She assisted Indigenous youth transitioning into schools off-reserve. They’d offer everything from Indigenous medicines like smudging to Wolastoqiyik art work in the schools.
“We have students dealing with anxiety and depression and we try to give them access to their traditional medicines we found sage and a sweetgrass as a way to address that immediately,” said Atwin, who has worked with school staff to help them gain an understanding about the importance of Indigenous knowledge. She hopes the schools can blend the two.
Tremblay said Atwin has been blending colonial and Indigenous knowledge her whole life.
“She wants a better tomorrow for her boys and future grandchildren,” said Tremblay.
When Atwin was younger, Tremblay would invite elders Gwen Bear and Harry LaPorte to his house to receive teachings and Atwin would sit and listen. She noticed a lack of Indigenous history and perspective in her early school days and began asking questions.
“She said how do I marry or blend traditional teachings with the western colonial teachings,” said Tremblay.
Although Atwin sees flaws in the system, she loved her time in school. She wants a system that inspires confidence in students and challenges them to think critically.