Indigenous

Twins from Neyaashiinigmiing First Nation head to Michigan State University

After a successful high school career at St. Andrew’s College, twin brothers Neebin and Neebeesh Elliott are going to Michigan State University in the fall.

Neebin and Neebeesh Elliott hope they can inspire other Indigenous youth

Neebeesh and Neebin Elliott say they have always been competitive since they were children, but have also always been there to support one another. (Submitted by Geewadin Elliott)

Twin Anishinaabe boys are heading to Michigan State University in the fall after successful high school careers at St. Andrew's College in Ontario.

Originally from Neyaashiinigmiing First Nation on the Bruce Peninsula, Neebeesh and Neebin Elliott say they have always been competitive since they were children, but have also always been there to support one another. 

In Ojibway, Neebin means 'summer' and Neebeesh means 'leaves.'

They chose to attend Michigan State because their father did his bachelor's degree in business at the university and as children the boys were attended summer and football camps there. 

"From a young age I knew that's where I wanted to go," said Neebeesh Elliott. 

He will be studying biology and said there's still a lot of options available for the direction his studies might take him in. 

"I know that I definitely want to do something in the medical field, so maybe become a doctor or something in the field of sports medicine," he said.

Neebeesh said he's also hoping to play on the university's football team. 

Neebin Elliott will be studying computer engineering. 

He said one of his long term goals with computer engineering is to bring coding skills back to their home community.

"I know how powerful it can be and how much of a useful language," he said. 

School's 1st powwow

The twins are living in Oro-Medonte township at the moment after the COVID-19 pandemic sent them home early from St. Andrew's, a private boy's school in Aurora, Ont., just north of Toronto, where they were boarding.

Neebeesh has attended St. Andrew's since Grade 9, while Neebin attended a Catholic school for his first year of high school before joining his brother in Grade 10.

The twins both said their time at the school was overwhelmingly positive and gave them a lot of opportunities to meet new people, work on their studies and play tons of sports including football, track and field and rugby.

Last week the boys finished their studies, both making the honour roll for having an average of over 85 per cent in their classes. 

They said they were able to share elements of their Anishinaabe heritage with the school as well, leading a prayer circle in Anishinaabemowin and teaching students how to smudge. 

Neebeesh Elliott will be studying biology at Michigan State University in the fall and hopes to play football as well. (Submitted by Geewadin Elliott)

Earlier this year, St. Andrew's had its first powwow, which they said was positively received by staff and students alike. The powwow took place with help from community members and their father.

"We wanted to go out with something memorable and it's something that'll bring us back hopefully every year," said Neebin Elliott.

The twins say they hope they can be positive role models for other Indigenous youth.

Neebeesh said youth shouldn't be afraid to speak up if they see something wrong or if someone doesn't understand something.

"Don't be afraid to correct them because that's what truth and reconciliation is about, it's sharing and correcting people, letting them know the proper things about our culture," he said. 

Lasting impact

Greg Reid, executive director of advancement at St. Andrew's, said the twins have made a lasting impact on the school. 

"Unfortunately, we have not had any significant presence of Indigenous students in the past," said Reid. 

"Once the twins were at the school, they started to — in a very, very positive way — open up people's awareness of Indigenous issues."

From football, to track and field and even rugby Neebin and Neebeesh Elliott stayed busy with extracurricular activities. (Submitted by Geewadin Elliott)

The students at the school wear uniforms that are made up of a white shirt, school blazer, tie and pants but the twins customized their shirts with ribbons. 

Reid said their shirts were completely acceptable under the school's dress code and helped show the other students how important their cultural identity was to the twins. 

A year ago, the school created a bursary that will help pay for tuition at the school for Indigenous students in the future. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rhiannon Johnson is an Anishinaabe journalist from Hiawatha First Nation based in Toronto. She has been with the Indigenous unit since 2017 focusing on Indigenous life and experiences throughout Ontario. You can reach her at rhiannon.johnson@cbc.ca and on Twitter @rhijhnsn.

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