Grace started in child protection in Red Lake, Ontario where she would fly into the remote communities of Pika gimme, Poplar Hill, Sandy Lake and Deer Lake. She did this from 1985-1987 before moving back to Thunder Bay to be the court coordinator for Dilico Ojibway CFS and then as supervisor. In 1993, Grace moved to Terrace, British Columbia for a short stay of two years where she took on a youth addiction prevention program developed with youth in Kitimat and Terrace alternate schools. Grace then returned to Thunder Bay for 1994-1995 at Dilico developing the off-reserve protection team and policy manuals.
Grace continued her career, moving from project to project. From 1995-1998 she once again headed to Terrace, British Columbia to do child protection in the Nisga’a communities in the Nass Valley, Then she went to Burns Lake on secondment with the Lake Babine Nation to develop their delegated child and family service program from 1998-2000 and then as training manager at the Caring for First Nations Children Society, training Indigenous and non-Indigenous child protection workers from 2003-2008. For the past eight years, Grace has been self-employed and helped write the Indigenous Cultural Safely Program.
When asked what she felt were her greatest career accomplishments, Grace told Allison, “My greatest accomplishment was refusing to contribute to the ongoing colonization, assimilation, and cultural interference of Indigenous children.” She practiced in what she defined as “a very non traditional way, refusing to place Indigenous children in non-Indigenous homes,” and continues to this day to influence others to “consider carefully their stereotypes, biases, and racist thinking when practicing with Indigenous people in health, mental health, child welfare, and Justice.” Grace has shown her passion through her actions and leadership. She continues to be a strong advocate for Indigenous peoples and their rights.
So how did OLC/Trafalgar play a role in who Grace Atkinson is today? Grace says “I really came into my own at OLC. I believe I honed my leadership skills in those years – and my assertiveness skills,” and as proof of this offers the OLC Athletic Association board for 1977 and the fact that she was the first student in OLC history to resign a position. She tells Allison that it was an “integrity issue” and she is proud of the stand she took.
Her memories of the Castle are fond. As well as developing the foundation of who she is today, she remembers the fun…some of it a little mischievous…as she references cheese nightmares, Gertrude McKitrick and late night study marathons. The memories are good and the person that left the Castle was ready to lead by example, take risks by not doing things in a way that is the norm or expected, and well prepared for the future. That is what Trafalgar Castle School education is all about. Girls are encouraged to become independent thinkers and be the next generation of bold thinkers, creative doers, and global citizens. Grace Atkinson’s career and life after OLC is a great example of this.
Thank you so much to Grace for taking the time to update Allison and provide us with where she is today. We want to hear more about our alumnae and how Trafalgar Castle School/OLC has been an integral part in who you are today. Feel free to contact Helen Walsh and give her your story.