Nicole Hill-Dolson moved with her family from Oneida Nation of the Thames to London, Ontario. Like a teenager. She clearly remembers the advice her grandmother gave her when they were about to leave.
“She waited until my parents left and she waited until just me and my sister were home,” said Hill-Dolson, 32, who is a bear clan.
“She told me to go as far as I can with education and come back and help my people.”
Hill-Dolson re-shared those words in a recent Facebook post celebrating the strength of her grandmother, who was also a boarding school survivor. Marina George ran away from the Mohawk Institute as a child and walked more than 100 kilometers back home.
“I decided to write it in connection with the discovery of the Kamloops burial [Indian] Residential School in BC, “said Hill-Dolson of the post, which quickly garnered hundreds of likes and dozens of comments.
“I just wanted to share how I use this negativity as fuel to work hard, make a difference, and try to change something.”
“This is my gift”
Hill-Dolson says her grandmother’s wisdom helped her make a career in law. During her school days, she took law lessons and soon found that she had a knack for understanding and interpreting legal jargon.
“I feel like this is my gift to share with people,” said Hill-Dolson, whose traditional name is Yakonikuhlanile, which means “she has a strong mind”.
Nicole Hill-Dolson is pictured outside the cabin where her grandmother was born. Hill-Dolson wants to be a judge. (Jason Lalonde)
While studying law, Hill-Dolson learned more about her grandmother’s past on a tour of the Mohawk Institute Residential School in Brantford.
At the end of the tour, she noticed a plaque with the names of the survivors. Her grandmother’s name was on it.
Hill-Dolson says the emotion struck her “like a ton of bricks.”
“I didn’t cry on the spot, I don’t think so, until I got back to my car and on my way home, back to Oneida, did I just yell the whole time.” She said.
At the time, Hill-Dolson was interning with Oneida Nation of the Thames and living in her grandmother’s old house. On the drive home from Brantford, she said she was impressed with the distance and how difficult it was for her late grandmother to travel.
“I was pretty much law school at the time, but it still instilled my grandma’s strength in me, hoping I could be the strong person she had to be when she had to be.” . “
“She would be proud”
Hill-Dolson now works as the navigator of Jordan’s Principle and runs her own law firm. In the future she wants to become a judge specializing in criminal law.
“I have a different life experience and perspective that I think could really help … on the road to conviction, finding alternative measures to incarceration, and focusing on rehabilitation,” she said.
Hill-Dolson, who has a young daughter and two stepchildren, found that her parents – who both worked in education – also motivated her to go to college and finish law. She hopes that she will inspire the next generation to set high goals and achieve everything they set out to do.
What if her grandmother could see you today?
“I know she would be proud,” she said.
A National Indian Residential School Crisis Line was set up to support former students and those affected. Access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national emergency number: 1-866 925-4419.