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A vocation to advocacy in Manitoba's child welfare system

Amy Linklater, a graduating student in Conflict Resolution Studies, says that her education and personal journey of healing are so intertwined it’s impossible to tell where one ends and the other begins. When she began studying at the University of Winnipeg at 21, she knew very little about the history of her Cree people and colonialism in Canada. “I didn’t know my history until university... my studies opened up a whole new trauma for me.”

The trauma Linklater speaks of is the impact of colonialism and the residential school system on her family. Until coming to university, she was only aware of the primary traumas she’d experienced in her own life - the secondary traumas which had wounded her family for generations were largely unfamiliar to her.

A first year course in conflict resolution sparked Linklater’s imagination and she enrolled in the major through Menno Simons. She completed her practicum with the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs in their First Nations Family Advocate office. This experience awoke in her a vocation to advocate for indigenous families, particularly those who are involved with the child welfare system.

If anyone knows the Manitoba child welfare system inside out, it’s Linklater. Herself a permanent ward from the age of ten, she laments the disproportionate number of indigenous children in care throughout the province. It was only after coming to university that she began to draw parallels between residential schools and the foster care system. Raised predominantly by settler Canadians, she lost her language and any opportunity to learn of her cultural heritage. “My children,” she says, “are the first generation that hasn’t been taken away.”

As she nears the end of her degree, Linklater refers to herself as a “survivor,” empowered by the ability to name her experiences. But at ten years old, she explains, “I didn’t know what resiliency was.” All she knew was that something needed to change for her younger siblings. She’s spent the last two and a half decades pursuing that change.

I asked Linklater what it enabled that resilience in the face of such tragedy. “I’ve come to realize that I have a choice,” she responded thoughtfully. Too many others who carry the  “blood memory” of generational trauma have come to believe that they have no choice in their circumstances.

Linklater is a fighter as much as a survivor, never allowing circumstances to dictate her fate. At the age of 16, she fought for the right to be placed in an indigenous foster home, and at 19 she began working with foster kids herself in order to “give back.” “I realized at a young age that if you need help, you need to ask for it.”

During Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), Linklater accompanied her mother through the alternative dispute resolution process (residential schools hearing), where she learned of a family history she’d never heard before. The process, while difficult, enabled her to come to a place of empathy and peace concerning her tumultuous childhood.

Still, the journey is far from over for Linklater and her family. She is grateful for the steps they’ve taken toward healing, but there is still much work to be done. “Every time I walk out the door I have to face colonization,” she explains. Colonialism isn’t something which ended with the TRC.

Linklater is grateful for the opportunity to study that history, as well as concepts around conflict resolution and genocide, throughout her degree. She believes that, “the work that MSC is doing is part of that decolonization process.” From here, she will use this learning to launch her life’s work in advocacy.

If life is a journey, Linklater’s has traversed mountainous terrain and now she’s ready to walk with others on that road. She’s found that there’s “a built-in trust” when clients realize she is guiding them from experience as well as theory.