2017 IW Winners

Aboriginal Leadership - Timmins

Veronica Nicholson

Veronica Nicholson

Veronica Nicholson is a storyteller by nature, and so it’s fitting that her own personal biography is as inspiring a tale of growth and exploration as any you’ll find.

A member of Michipicoten First Nation, Nicholson grew up in a home with an Ojibwe mother and an Irish father where contributing to the community was not just encouraged, but expected.

“Even as a young child, growing up in that family environment, we were raised to always give back to your community, and we did that,” Nicholson said. “We were always volunteering, always doing something.”

But after becoming a wife and mother of three, education fell lower on the priority list, and Nicholson’s focus shifted to paid work to support her young family.

“When the bills were high and I had to make money, I went to work,” she said. “I always knew how to make money. With that said, it always took away what I wanted to do for me.”

Education was never far from her mind, however, and in 1984, at the age of 29, Nicholson graduated with her high school diploma — 12 years after dropping out at the age of 17. An undergraduate degree in business management and a graduate program in leadership and training followed.

But it was an Aboriginal Community Economic Development program that opened up Nicholson to her current career path.

“Taking that course, I knew then what I wanted to do,” Nicholson said. “This is the kind of work I wanted to do, because it’s working with community people on their terms.”

After years of living in B.C., Nicholson and her husband decided to return home to Ontario in 2004, and a job posting for an executive director at the Timmins Native Friendship Centre caught her eye. The centre provides intervention, direct services, advocacy, and support in the areas of health, education, culture, recreation, and social services.

Nicholson had been involved with the centre since the 1980s — it’s there she received guidance and support on how to return to school. She had, it seemed, come full circle.

Since taking on the lead role at the centre 13 years ago, she’s helmed some remarkable achievements.

She led its first strategic plan in 2005, followed by a growth plan in 2010. Under her leadership, the centre’s programs have grown from nine to 28, and its staff also grew, blossoming from 28 to 52.

The physical space has grown, too: moving from a 10,000-square-foot building to one with 32,000 square feet, which better suits the growing number of services on offer.

Currently, Nicholson is driving a $3-million affordable housing project that will add 18 two-bedroom units to the community.

She does all this while sitting on numerous boards and committees to ensure that there is a voice for Indigenous people at the table. And it’s Nicholson’s long-term goal to indefinitely bring an end to homelessness in Timmins, by providing every Indigenous person with a safe, warm place to call home.

“My commitment is to provide for the community who depends on me in various ways,” Nicholson said. “At end of day, it’s not about me; it’s about my commitment that I make each day that I walk through those doors.”

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