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Meet Nakuset, executive director of the Native Women's Shelter of Montreal

22 Dec 2020

Our interview with Nakuset begins with her telling us the captivating story of how she received her spirit name.

Working as a model in her teens and twenties, Nakuset was cast as an extra in the movie Squanto. On set, she met with a Mi’kmaq eIder and asked him for a spirit name that would differentiate her from the other models by reflecting her Indigenous heritage. “I see you as the sun,” the elder said, “because the sun is strong, and you are bright, so your name will be Nakuset.”

From our time spent together, we, too, are able to see the strength and brilliance of this remarkable woman.

As a child, Nakuset was one of the many Indigenous children removed from their families as part of the Sixties Scoop and placed into the child welfare system. She was adopted by a family in Montreal and tried to blend in, but no matter what she did, she always felt that she was never accepted or good enough.

When she was 18, Nakuset left home to find where she belonged and to learn about her identity as an Indigenous person. Seeing movies like Dances with Wolves and working on native films, she witnessed acceptance, kinship, and a sense of family amongst Indigenous people that she had so longed for as a child. She felt a deep responsibility for her people and a need to help.

While she was in university, she began volunteering at the Native Women’s Shelter and was hired on her very second day. She has been with the shelter for 21 years, working her way up to her current position as executive director where she now has the power to bring about real change.

There are many social issues affecting the Indigenous community and Nakuset spends time working on all of them. Once she identifies a concern, she steps up, creates solutions, and forges forward. Some of the many projects she’s begun at the Native Women’s Shelter include Resilience Montreal, a wellness centre for the homeless, and the Iskweu project, an initiative to respond to an immediate need of assistance expressed by families and loved ones in the case of an Indigenous woman or girl going missing.

A recent development that Nakuset is proud to announce is that the Native Women’s Shelter will be opening second-stage housing for single women and families in 2022. The building will house 23 apartments and has been specifically designed to meet the needs of social paediatrics.

“I totally believe that everyone has a purpose, a calling,” Nakuset says. “You go with what you can do naturally. I found through years of working what I could do naturally. I’m a good storyteller. I think that’s a strength and I continue to do that, but I’m also driven. I’m not deterred by the word no. I understand that when I undertake a project, it won’t happen overnight. I tell the youth, ‘Don’t give up.’ Everything takes time.”

CBC Gem will be soon be releasing the powerful documentary, Becoming Nakuset, a film about Nakuset’s perseverance through her difficult childhood and her journey to discovering her Indigenous identity.

Sneak a peek at all our incredible encounters here