Jennifer Lenny, a 2Spirit Métis person from Prince Albert was, recognized with an award for Community Engagement at Usask’s Indigenous Student Achievement Awards, which was held virtually on Thursday.
The awards honour USask Indigenous students for their academic excellence, leadership, research, community engagement and resiliency. The award ceremony was part of Indigenous Achievement Week (IAW), which celebrated the successes and contributions of Métis, First Nations and Inuit students, staff and faculty.
Lenny, who uses they/them pronouns, was humbled by the recognition.
“It’s an honour and it also feels surprising or shocking to me,” they said during an interview on Thursday.
“When my instructor first told me that she was going to nominate me for this award I was really taken aback and really grateful.”
Lenny is the single parent of a vibrant 8-year-old, and a mature student enrolled in education at the SUNTEP Prince Albert Program. Like most people, Lenny doesn’t give back to the community for the recognition.
They came to SUNTEP with a vast amount of knowledge from various workplaces, volunteering and cultural learnings, and decided to return to education after working for Saskatchewan Polytechnic as Indigenous Students Centre Coordinator.
“I was working in post-secondary and I was working with people who were furthering their education and to me it always felt that I hadn’t completed a circle that I was still needing to go back,” Lenny said. “It would just bother me that I haven’t completed that degree.
“This is affirming for me too, to be in school and taking what I learned and my life experience and apply that to what we are learning academically and culturally in SUNTEP. It’s just really affirming for me that I am in the right place in my life.”
They work casually at the Prince Albert Métis Addictions Council, the Saskatchewan Health Authority Brief and Social Detox as an Addictions Counsellor and at the YWCA Our House as a client support worker.
Though working, they still manage to be a top achiever who displays a profound sense of pride for their community, culture and advocacy to the 2Spirit community.
Lenny said that building community is important because it helped give them a sense of place and belonging.
“I grew up moving around a lot,” Lenny explained. “I didn’t really feel I had a sense of belonging. I didn’t feel like I had a a sense of community, and so it’s important for me to create that now.
“I realize how important that is because I just felt lost a lot in my life, and then the other is not only for support of Indigenous people but specifically for 2spirit people. That’s where my passion really lies in creating community and having those inclusive and safe and loving places that’s creating a sense of community. That is extremely important to me.”
Lenny has participated in and advocated for the gender and sexual diverse community in Prince Albert. They sit on the Prince Albert Pride Board as Chair and is a committee member of the Heart of the Youth Community Powwow, where they helped provide guidance to change the dance categories to be non-binary and created a statement of inclusion and welcome for 2Spirit dancers.
They hold bi-monthly drum circles with women and 2Spirit people called “Spirit Strong Singers”, facilitate bi-weekly drum circles for children and youth, along with drum-making workshops and Grandmother moon ceremonies for the Prince Albert community.
They were invited to sit on an ADHOC Advisory Committee between the University of Saskatchewan and the City of Saskatoon to give advice on how the city can support post-secondary students and are a member of the SUNTEP Culture Committee, planning events for students and staff. Lenny is an asset to the SUNTEP community and to The University of Saskatchewan.
Lenny encourages other people to follow a similar path if it is right for them.
“I have really established myself, I have a mortgage, vehicle payments, I am a single parent, and to go back to school was really scary,” they said. “I was like how can I even do this, but everything really fell into place to me. I am really grateful the Metis Nation-Saskatchewan sponsored me. I was able to get casual work to help support myself too. What I needed fell into place and that held me back before too because I was so scared that I could even afford it.”
Lenny added that sometimes it takes people time to find what they want to do in life.