When Aldeli Albán Reyna started her U of T degree in women and gender studies, she wanted to work at the United Nations. Just nine years later, dream became reality as Albán Reyna (BA 2010 UC) headed to New York in March to speak at a panel on the status of Indigenous women.
“It was kind of overwhelming,” she confesses with a smile. “I was pinching myself: Oh my God, I’m at the U.N., is this really happening! It was a really great experience to have.”
Albán Reyna works for YWCA Canada’s national office as projects and research coordinator, a job that involves launching awareness campaigns for issues from homelessness to violence against women. When local YWCAs around Canada want to hold an event or call for change, they can call on Albán Reyna to get them the research and support they need. “We operate a sort of bottom-up relationship,” she says. “We work from the feedback of our local members rather than the national office tells them what to do.”
In March, Albán Reyna attended the NGO sessions on the status of women that are held in parallel with the United Nations conference on the same topic. A youth delegate, she was a panelist for a discussion on Indigenous women’s rights. Albán Reyna identifies as a woman with Indigenous roots herself. “I usually say I am Afro-Peruvian, Mestiza, born in Montreal,” she explains. Her parents, who immigrated to Canada from Peru 30 years ago, both have Indigenous Peruvian heritage and are descendants of African slaves brought to South America.
Albán Reyna was chosen to speak because she’s a leader in 4Rs Youth Movement, a coalition of five Canadian Aboriginal groups and five youth groups, including the YWCA. They’ve got big plans. “By the time 2017 comes around, which is the 150th anniversary of Canada,” says Albán Reyna, “we’re hoping to engage 150,000 youth.” In small groups, one at a time, she brings Indigenous and non-Indigenous kids together to talk about how Canada’s First Nations are treated today, and how the upcoming generation can make our country more inclusive. The goal is reconciliation – a term meaning both acknowledging and resolving past conflict and wrongdoing.
“People are definitely going away with changed attitudes,” says Albán Reyna. “There’s huge momentum. It was clear that a lot of people didn’t know the full history of Canada – for example, that residential schools existed until 1996. But once you start to get that knowledge everybody wants to do more. They want to keep those conversations going and they want to see what they can do to change things. It’s really uplifting, it’s really inspiring!”