Today we raise our fists high and put our hands together in celebration of our Feature Girl Warrior, the dedicated early childhood development specialist, talented artist, biker and free spirit, Mindy Sinclair, an Ojibwa-Cree woman from Peguis First Nation. With 20 years in the field, both as coordinator and director, Mindy provides professional development expertise to First Nation early educators as the Early Learning & Child Care Facilitator at Manitoba First Nation Education Resource Centre. She believes networking and strengthening partnerships are both valuable and important and that our impact and interaction with children is more than one person. Change takes all of us. Mindy has been a hard-core biker for the past 37 years. At 21 this adventure-seeking warrior rode solo to the Grand Canyon where she found other bikers to camp out with and share her experience. She also has fond memories of her journey to Alaska. Mindy feels especially fortunate to be able to travel, and has been apart of the World Forum on Early Care and Education in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and more recently in Macau, China in April. She was a presenter each time, sharing the importance of child development, play and our culture with others from around the world. Mindy is close to her family, has been married for 27 years and has twin boys, who are now 25. Four years ago, Mindy discovered her talent for painting and believes art is a journey and her passion. She infuses brilliance and intensity in her work, and considers herself a fearless artist, willing to test her own limits. She draws upon her culture, is inspired by it, and loves the journey of creation as her paintings come to life on the canvas. Mindy paints all the time, when not working, gardening, canning or traveling. Before painting Mindy expressed herself through woodcarving. In 2006, she carved her family totem pole, which faces the east to welcome the sunrise in her front yard. Mindy created it as a lesson for her boys, if momma can do this…YOU can do anything! And we think this is a powerful lesson for all of us!
What makes you a Girl Warrior?
I’m not the smartest person, there is much I can’t and don’t know, so why a Girl Warrior? Because I believe if I let the opportunity go by and not at least try, I’d feel worse. I know in my heart I will get better and although I may be uncertain, despite the fear I will at least try. I am persistent; I am a resilient Girl Warrior. Hell ya!
What drew you to motorcycles?
My older sister was my role model from day one. When her daughter was five years old, she biked from our home on the Peguis Reserve, Manitoba to Hope Alaska on a 550 Virago, motorcycle, taking her daughter with her. I watched her and I learned from her; that was 39 years ago.
How do you feel when you hit the open road on your bike?
The only way I can describe this feeling is my soul leaves my body and I feel like I’m soaring among the clouds. I know it sounds dramatic but biking is a part of my soul. It is something I love and something I have known and done my entire life. I was 21 years old when I went to the Grand Canyon on my motorcycle, I didn’t know anyone; I sought out other bikers and just camped out with them.
There are more times during a summer ride when I am faced with a dangerous circumstance, another vehicle doesn’t see me, someone runs a stop sign (and doesn’t see me), someone moves into my lane (and didn’t see me) but this fear will always be there. I love my bike, I love the ride and it nourishes my soul.
Why did you go into the Early Childhood Education field?
I went into the ECE field because I saw a great need within our First Nation communities at a time when children had no access to formalized quality care. Early learning and child care opportunities were few and I was offered an opportunity to take part and work with others increasing quality care for our youngest children.
What’s the importance of play in the healthy development of a child?
Children need and want to play, it is a natural process; it is the way children learn. It is the way they master the world around them. Children pick up a stick, carton, something round, something heavy, cold, warm, smooth, or flexible and will determine what it is, and what they can do with it. Along the way they are experiencing, weight, measure, how much (math) and everything else as they play. Play is fundamental to a child’s learning and life. Children need to play and they need to get outside! I need to add that outdoors is a natural place for children to grow, learn and develop, something every early childhood educator is taught.
You’ve made presentations on early care and education in China and Malaysia. What are the cultural differences in the approach to play?
One of the greatest learning experiences that I had was the understanding that play, learning and milestones of development for all children is universal. Children are children are children; no matter where they are in the world or what culture they belong. Children will grow and develop the same way, but not necessarily at the same time. As an educator I came to understand that if we support each other globally the world becomes that much smaller and together we become a global community focused on the same issues. Our cultures are different around the world but when we understand development, it’s a small world after all.
How does creative expression bring heart and meaning to your life?
Creative expression is a passion. Painting, carving, glass, each project takes me on a journey. I started painting on canvas using acrylics four fours ago; art is a journey that helps to keep my spirit strong. I carved a 30’ totem pole and once completed, placed it in our front yard, it faces the east to welcome the sunrise each morning. It’s a family totem, each totem representing a very personal meaning to each of our lives as a family.
What was the lesson you taught your twin boys through the family totem you carved in 2006?
The greatest lesson I wanted to teach my children was that if I could do this they could do anything! On the pole is an eagle at the top, representing through the wings good luck for all. The bear is next, motherhood and teacher; it’s my carving I get to go next. The beaver represents persistence and determination; if mom can do this they can do anything! The otter representing friends; be good to your friends. Below the otter is the wolf, which is all about family; take care of your family. When I got to the bottom and the last totem I knew that it had to be the most important. My interpretation of carving a totem pole was as one proceeded down the pole each totem needed to be more important than the ones above it. The way master carvers would teach, they would teach apprentices and have them carve closer to the top of the pole further from the eye. The master carvers were closer to the eye. My interpretation of this was what was on the bottom of the pole needed to be the most important. I carved my twin boys on the bottom of the pole. Children are our foundation after all and our greatest love.
What’s the most important decision you ever made?
The biggest and best decision of my life wasn’t made by me. It was by my big sister Elizabeth when I was 16 years old. She wanted the world for me, she wanted the best for me and she knew the only way was to leave my First Nation community to finish my education in the city. The real reason was she didn’t want me to become pregnant “too early.” Not that I would have but she felt that by finishing my education in a bigger world I would have a better chance. I did go to school; I finished high school and a Bachelor’s degree in general studies when I was 22. This led to freedom to get a good job and then to explore the world. I’ve been to China (twice) Malaysia, many European countries, Halifax to Vancouver and each city in between, most states in the USA and the coast off South America. It also led me to further my education, as I grew older. I am an Early Childhood Educator Level 3, who continues to learn child development and work with those who care for young children. It was her decision to send me away, but I agreed to go. I wanted to see and do as much as I could with my life.
What have been the biggest challenges or obstacles that you’ve overcome – personally and/or professionally?
My greatest challenge then and now is living away from home. Being away from home is hard; I’m away from my husband, so much. I love him and he loves me, somehow we make it work. We will often go riding together and make it a family thing.
What do we need to know “for sure” about children’s programming and care in First Nations country?
All children no matter where they are need and have the right to quality care. All children no matter where they live have the right to programming and care that reflects their diversity, culture and life. We need to continue to work toward and promote quality care and the rights for all children everywhere.
What would you say to your younger Girl Warrior?
Be brave, even when you feel weak. It may not turn out the first time but try again if it matters.
What would you say to future Girl Warriors looking for inspiration?
Listen to the elders, they know and they remember, you will learn from them. Also follow your heart, listen to what your heart is saying, think about what is most important to you and go for it!
Who is/are your Girl Warrior hero(s) and why?
There are many Girl Warriors I have come across in my life, but I will share three with you. One, who amazes me, is my much younger cousin Missy. She is fearless and has the heart as big as the ocean. She cares about others, and tries to help wherever she can.
My mom passed away but she was my ultimate hero. She treated people with love and respect, she had so many friends of all ages and she saw the world through a creative lens. She took something and would make it her own, in her own style. She was brave and took care of so many, children, friends, and family.
Another is Kathleen Rose McIvor. I met her on one of my trips to northern Manitoba. Kathleen is a woman who seems comfortable in her own skin; she is strong, and confident. She is a hunter and she thinks nothing of taking a small rifle with her on her canoe trips or walks on the trap line. In her presence I am in awe of the power she radiates as a strong Ikwe (woman in Ojibway). She doesn’t know it but she is one of my heroes.
Blue Sky it. No boundaries here, just limitless opportunities. Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
In five years from now, I only want to be healthy. I am diabetic now, and I want to be strong physically. I joined CrossFit in April of this year and I’m learning how to care for my body. My strength is improving and I’m learning that woman over 40 lose 10% of their muscle mass each year. I’m working on strength building and slowly but progressively I am getting stronger and stronger. I need to, if I want to continue being a biker, I need my strength.
What makes you laugh uncontrollably? Cry out all the tears?
My friends, I don’t have a great amount of friends but those I do make me laugh; laughing at ourselves mostly. Movies make me cry. I can get into a movie and when something sad happens I will cry every time.
What has been your biggest disappointment/triumph?
Biggest disappointment: Is having to live much of my life away from my home, in order to work at a job that I love.
Biggest triumph: Being resilient. I’ve seen many things, experienced some very bad things and because of this resiliency I have not only survived but also many times thrived.
If an adventure novel were written about your life, what would it be called?
When I think about my life, the gifts, the challenges and the opportunities, my adventure novel would likely be called:
“I don’t know when or where the journey will end but OH what an incredible ride!”
To learn more about Mindy’s art email her at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow her on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/mindy.sinclair.96
And Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/sinclair.mindy/
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