The following is the speech Dr. Henning delivered during the celebration of Aboriginal Day on June 25, 2011 in Terrace, BC.
Courage to Believe in yourself
I want to honour territory of the Tsimshian people of Kitsumkalum, especially the Laxgibuu Clan on whose traditional territory I stand today, thank you Elders, honoured chief, matriarchs and honoured women. Thank you to organizers and the city of Terrace for inviting me to speak today.
I want to talk today about having courage.
As a young person growing up in a place that at one time in its history was called Indian Territory, I can say that I was the least likely to succeed.
For me, education was viewed as not attainable and that pursuing an education would not matter where graduating from grade 12 I was unprepared for post-secondary and believed that education was not going to have an impact on my life at all. All throughout my high school years I was an angry young woman, who at the core of it all, was very afraid.
However, I still questioned what was my purpose in life?
Within the first three years after grade 12, I had three daughters and in spite of the challenges of being a immature and having 3 babies, going back to school to take a few classes was always in the back of my mind. One day, on a whim I stopped in at my local college to ask how to register for a class. I remember thinking to myself that if I don’t do well I will just quit.
Reflecting back on that experience, I put one foot in front of the other and started my first day of changing my life and the lives of my family. I come from a culture that uses the power of stories: so I want to tell you about my first class after entering into higher education.
I was taking this class in Native American studies and wanting to do well, I sat right in the front row and in walks this really tall Norwegian looking gentleman who had a bit of a hippy look to him and I thought to myself “who does this yo negg think he is doing talking about this?”
You know, I took a risk and spoke to him after a few of my classes and over time, he began to talk to me about the positive things that I brought to his classroom and his teaching. Over a period of time he helped me to see what I had to offer in this world. After a while, I was able to understand the things within myself, for myself and realized that what he did in my life was to believe in me, until I learned how to believe in myself.
This man is now in his late 70s, my lifelong friend and mentor and is welcomed as a member of my family. I share this with you because as a leader or a person in my position, sometimes I am perceived by people that do not know me, that I have always been a leader or a President instead of the poor Ani-yun-wiya girl from rural Oklahoma who at one time wondered why I was put on this earth. That at one time I had no belief in myself to achieve anything.
So I try to always ask myself what has happened in my life that I can pass on to young people and to parents today? What happened is that I had people along the way that helped me to understand what courage is; people that taught me how to believe in my own value, to develop and understand my own self worth. People that helped me to understand what courage is:
Courage is taking responsibility for my own life and stop blaming everything outside of me for the reason why I was not successful on my own terms.
Courage is wading into what is MY life and facing what I need to change in my life.
Courage is identifying in my life what is good and building upon it and knowing that what is Not good for me needs to be changed and then working to change it.
Courage is taking those risks to begin an educational journey without fearing that you will lose your culture and heritage knowing that who you are will change, but never take away the person you are at your core.
Courage is recognizing the special talents and ability you have to offer your world, your community, your family.
Courage is having a voice for yourself and for your children.
Courage is to go the distance as a parent to be the best role model you can be.
Courage is stepping out of your comfort zone and taking a risk that you might succeed.
Courage is stepping up to the plate of your life and your future.
Courage is working to see that your educational dreams and goals are realized.
Courage is Believing in yourself.
Are you ready?