How a digital media crash course is giving Indigenous women a 'positive' voice

Graduates from Nokee Kwe's Positive Voice program are sharing their work at the London Public Library`s Central Branch.

Graduates from the London, Ont., program say they flexed their digital media muscles and gained confidence

Heather Bressette-Hammond graduated from the first cohort of the Positive Voice program. (Paula Duhatschek/CBC News)

When Heather Bressette-Hammond first visited Nokee Kwe, an employment training centre in London, Ont., she just wanted to take a basic literacy course and finish up some high school credits.

Instead, she learned how to take photos, design infographics and posters, and even make memes. She did it by telling her own story of what it's like being an Indigenous woman. 

"It was an empowering experience and it means you have a voice," said Bressette-Hammond who is from the Kettle and Stoney Point First Nation.

Student work includes "memes," as shown above. (Paula Duhatschek/CBC News)

Bressette-Hammond was part of the first cohort of students in Nokee Kwe's Positive Voice program, a writing and digital media crash course aimed at helping Indigenous women share first-person stories. 

"There's been so many derogatory stories out there about our First Nations women and we're here to change that."

More than storytelling

Beyond the benefits of storytelling, the program helps build skills that can translate to school or the workplace, said Summer Thorp, an employment counsellor at Nokee Kwe.

"This is a way for them to practise [digital skills], so that they feel more comfortable going into the workforce or post-secondary," Thorp said.

Writing personal stories trains participants to synthesize information and to write clearly, she explained, while graphic design and photography skills can be used in presentation. 

Thorp said these skills are particularly important as many participants are returning to school after having children or grandchildren.

Summer Thorp developed the Positive Voice program and is an employment counsellor at Nokee Kwe. (Paula Duhatschek/CBC News)

For Bressette-Hammond, the program helped give her a boost toward applying to Fanshawe College where she hopes to become a social worker.

"It's like a stepping stone. We're all moving forward to post-secondary school and so having this portfolio is a real nice thing to take along with us," she said.

Classmates become 'sisters'

The most recent Positive Voice cohort will present their work at the London Public Library, Central Branch, from Saturday until the end of September.

Bressette-Hammond will be performing traditional drums at the exhibit launch on Saturday, joined by classmates she now calls her "sisters."

For her, the relationships she's built through the program have been just as meaningful as the skills.

"We maintain ties to each other, we help each other out, we elevate each other when we need to... There isn't much you can't ask your sisters to do," she said.