By Fred Sgambati (’83)
The Acadia Alumni Association is pleased to announce that two-time graduate Kayla Mansfield-Brown (‘Dancing Deer’ - 2014, 2019) is the 2021 recipient of the Acadia Alumni Outstanding Young Alumni Award.
Her impact as a woman, mother of four, Mi’kmaw leader and proud Acadia graduate who completed a Master’s of Education in Leadership at Acadia last year is difficult to overstate. A strong and outspoken advocate for social and environmental justice, gender equity and Indigenous rights, Kayla received in 2018 the ‘Fearless Leader’ Award from One Woman, an international organization dedicated to female empowerment, and earned the Graduate Student of the Year award at Acadia in 2019 for her commitment to academics and community involvement. More recently, Kayla was the recipient of the Dwight Dorey Youth Advocacy Award, presented to an Indigenous youth by the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples, which works to bring awareness to Indigenous rights, culture, education and language.
In making the announcement, Acadia Alumni Association President Donalda MacBeath (’75) says, “Kayla Mansfield-Brown’s commitment to sharing important and valuable information about her culture, Indigenous rights and promoting social justice for marginalized communities is a powerful and poignant example for all of us. She is a fearless and determined advocate who enhances our level of education, encourages us to be more mindful, and communicates her passion for communities and change. She also represents our Acadia alumni constituency honourably and well, and I am thrilled to acknowledge and applaud her as this year’s Outstanding Young Alumni Award recipient.”
Kayla has served as an Aboriginal Client Service Representative for RBC, is an Indigenous Knowledge Keeper and Facilitator, was an Indigenous Youth Representative for a provincial political party, and an Indigenous Community Engagement Coordinator at houdinidesign Architects. Kayla is currently working with the Aboriginal Peoples Training and Employment Commission as a Support Worker for the Native Council of Nova Scotia.
She notes that ‘Dancing Deer’ is her Mi’kmaq name, shared with her in a sacred ceremony by Mi’kmaw Elder, Nancy Whynot. Dancing, she says, “illustrates the way I carry myself through life’s adversities, and in honouring the traditional dances of our nation. Lentuk (deer) signifies my small legs, but the strength they endure. Deer also have the ability to recognize energy, and willingness to protect their young.”
In the winter of 2020, Kayla lectured CODE 1963 - Decolonizing Community Development, under the Department of Community Development. This course was the first of its kind to be offered in the department and explored Indigenous ways of knowing in contrast to colonial ways of knowing, to understand decolonizing practices for working with Canadian communities.
Kayla has been a First Nations speaker at numerous conferences and seminars, a guest lecturer at Acadia, served on the planning committee and presented at Acadia’s Arts and Literature Mawiomi to name a few of her many community engagement credits.
Her supervisor at houdinidesign, Lisa Tondino, says, “as a Mi’kmaw woman, Kayla has embraced the opportunity through her community work to facilitate important dialogues, sharing and peace circles, has influenced the way my firm approaches architectural projects with the community – through ‘two-eyed seeing’ whereby projects are viewed from multiple perspectives from both Western and Indigenous ways of seeing and interpreting information. We have taken the goals of Reconciliation into the scope of our work with the help of Kayla’s knowledge and education.”