This formerly homeless man is now a rising Indigenous scholar
Rising Indigenous scholar Jesse Thistle has overcome personal trauma, homelessness and addiction to get to where he is now.
He told CTV’s Your Morning on Thursday that getting arrested likely saved his life.
Thistle and his brother grew up in a broken home with a father who struggled with addiction issues and fought with their mother.
He recalls his father taking him and his brother away from her, but said he would then abandon his sons during the day to find money for alcohol and drugs.
Thistle was put into foster care for a few months in the early 1980s. He distinctly remembers the harrowing experience of authorities responding to reports of neglect and banging down their apartment door to find him and his brother hiding in a vent.
After living with his grandparents, he eventually ended up on the streets and became addicted to drugs. He described his behaviour as “uncontrollable” and said a big turning point was getting arrested.
He would steal bikes in a Brampton, Ont. housing complex. One time, he unknowingly stole one from a gang member. “They confronted me and one of them stabbed me in the face with a steak knife,” he recalled.
Luckily for Thistle, a patrolling police officer was nearby to intercede “and it probably saved my life.”
After a few failed attempts at rehab, he said the desperation eventually became so great that he eventually realized he had no other choice. “I realized I was completely powerless against my addiction … and that I really need to get to the root of my resentments” he said.
He eventually earned his high school diploma equivalent, met the love of his life, went on to study Indigenous history and learned about the systemic issues plaguing his people.
His research focuses on Metis road allowances during the latter half of the 19th century, which were areas on the shoulder of the road where communities were forced to live after the Crown took Metis land and kicked them off it.
Thistle learned how these issues reverberated through generations of his family, “It created kind of a trauma in my family and tore my family apart when I was young,” he said. “That was a personal trauma that I carried through my addiction.”
He now uses his research as an assistant professor in Métis Studies at York University in Toronto, to pay it forward and educate others about Indigenous and homelessness issues he himself has dealt with. He has also written a book, "From the Ashes," detailing his experiences.