Lakeland College alumna Linda Johnson left a legacy of making a difference in the lives of Indigenous students when she was a student at Lakeland and she continues to do so since graduating.
While completing her business administration diploma
, Johnson advocated for more supports for Indigenous students at Lakeland. She was involved in starting the Indigenous Student Committee as well as taking the first steps to create the Indigenous Student Lounge at the Lloydminster campus, which opened in 2018. Along with other students on the committee, Johnson worked with Dr. Alice Wainwright-Stewart, Lakeland president and CEO, to bring awareness to Indigenous culture through many initiatives. She then went on to complete a business management degree in partnership with Athabasca University.
“I love Lakeland,” she says. “It was amazing. We worked together to bring in more supports for Indigenous students, including the Indigenous Student Committee and other programs to assist students, like hiring the Indigenous liaison and creating the lounge. Dr. Wainwright-Stewart was so good to work with. She loved all of our ideas and was 100 per cent committed to helping us bring them to life.”
Since graduating in 2013, Johnson’s passion for supporting Indigenous students has only grown.
When she learned about a rising number of youths dying by suicide on the Makwa Sahgaiehcan First Nation (MSFN) School last year, it was an issue that touched her personally. Though Johnson now lives in Saskatoon, she had lived in the MSFN community, worked as an administrative assistant at the school and raised her children there.
Johnson has also seen firsthand the damage this kind of tragedy can leave on those left behind. Her sister-in-law’s son died by suicide at 16, the same age as Johnson’s daughter.
“I’ve seen a mother go through issues like these, I’ve seen the effect this has on family members. It hurts so much and my family is still dealing with it to this day,” she explains. “I felt so helpless. I know so many of the families in MSFN, so many of the students, and I felt like I couldn’t do anything to help because I wasn’t there.”
Johnson began to see a wave of support from people around the world who shared how loved and valuable the youth of the community are through social media, as well as sent their love, thoughts and prayers.
“I thought about the younger children who might not have social media or those who may not have access to the internet, and I started to wonder if there was a way to send those messages to them physically. It was such an outpouring of love, I wanted to make sure everyone in the community could feel it.”
Inspired by how families express their love through Christmas cards, Send Some Love to MSFN Youth was born. Using Facebook, Johnson encouraged everyone to send Christmas cards to the community to ensure they knew they were loved.
The results far exceeded her expectations. The community received countless cards from all over the world and Johnson’s friends sent her pictures of the newest deliveries, of boxes and boxes of cards, every day.
“I had to drive up and see it for myself,” she says. “The students couldn’t believe that there were people from England, from Hawaii, from all over the world that had sent them cards. Reading them was amazing. They were so personal, so heartwarming and heartfelt. They created a sense of being loved.”
The entire project has taught Johnson some important lessons on the value of community and, most importantly, the impact a single person can have.
“All I did was write a Facebook post,” Johnson says. “If you really believe in something and it’s hanging on your heart, I encourage you to go out there and take that step or that risk because you never know. You could be changing someone’s life or helping them along the way. People really can make a difference by taking the smallest step.”