Zoey Roy (photo by Sweetmoon Photography)

Committed to community

From being homeless, to finding a home at the U of S, Zoey Roy’s path has had its share of twists and turns, and she hopes it can be an example for other Aboriginal youth to follow.

By Kris Foster

A few years ago, Roy, now a fourth-year student in the Saskatchewan Urban Native Teacher Education Program (SUNTEP), found herself on the street after her home had been shot up.

"I was at rock bottom when I was 19," said Roy, a self-described "military brat," who lived in 16 different communities in Canada before leaving home at 13 and being incarcerated at 15. "I had two choices: I can give up, or realize I have nothing to lose and everything to gain."

She knew that education was the best way to making those gains.

"I knew I had to change and I knew I had to finish my Grade 12 education and be involved in my education," explained Roy, who most youth know better by her hip-hop name Pricelys. "So I volunteered at the school in the breakfast program. I was there from 7 in the morning to 6:30 at night."

It was during that time when Roy, who was also working for two local youth organizations, found her voice as a spoken word artist. So after finishing Grade 12 at Nutana Collegiate in Saskatoon, she moved east to Toronto to pursue a career as a performing poet. "I found a source of healing. I was a young, poor Aboriginal girl. I needed to express myself."

Her message in poetry and music, she continued, is "about hope and resilience. But it is also about just looking for a place to belong and that can be treach­erous, especially for indigenous youth because voices of our ancestors have been oppressed by the people who wrote our stories."

Roy was on a good path and she was gaining recognition for her art, but something was still missing for her. "I was working for myself in Toronto and I realized that my success was just mine. It wasn't fruitful in the sense of building community."

It was then, in 2011, when Roy headed back to Saskatoon and reached out to SUNTEP. "I had to convince them to take me into the program," she said with a laugh, adding that she started classes in fall 2012. "But this has been the best decision I ever made in life."

The program, she explained, has helped her find her identity. "To be a Métis woman means that I, too, have responsibility to care for children in our commu­nities and the environment that can't speak for itself, so naturally teaching is a good path for me."

Roy sees her role as a being a "bridge between two worlds: the colonized Canadian nation and the Indigenous nation. As a Métis woman I empathize with both perspectives and can help formulate and understand where we can coexist."

For Roy, coexisting meant getting involved in numerous social and artistic movements. Most notable was in April 2011 during the federal election when Roy founded Rock the Vote—a movement that started in Saskatchewan and spread across Canada as a way to engage marginalized communi­ties. Roy also became involved with National Youth Arts Week and Write Out Loud: Building Community through Spoken Word. Her work as an artist, social activist and role model for Aboriginal youth has not gone unnoticed as she received the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal in 2012, a YWCA Women of Distinction nomina­tion in 2013 and most recently the Indspire Métis Youth Award.

"I'm a survivor, I've faced every violence you can think of and my spirit has been broken so many times. I was a hood kid, but a strong girl and I wouldn't be here without her. Now it seems like such a different life," said Roy.

"My narrative is common to a lot of indigenous youth. I think that's why I'm relevant. What keeps me going now is seeing youth challenging themselves as a result of conversations we have. Watching young people be resilient and hopeful will always give me purpose," said Roy, adding that she feels that Saskatoon is home because her spirit is fulfilled here.

Roy plans on staying in Saskatoon after finishing her SUNTEP degree, and hopes to teach children "how they learn in a learning environment that nurtures all learning styles. I'm going to pursue alternative expe­riential learning. It is tough on the street and I've developed curriculum on life skills. How to find a home, get bank and SIN cards. That's what I want to do."

Indeed, Roy has learned a lot on her path so far and has no doubt others can learn from it as well.