Alumni Engagement and York University Libraries hosted a virtual fireside chat on Aug. 18, featuring alumnus Jesse Thistle, author of the award-winning memoir, From the Ashes: My Story of Being Métis, Homeless, and Finding My Way. During the virtual event, moderated by Dean of Libraries Joy Kirchner, Thistle shared his journey writing his first novel and discussed the influences and impact that York had on his success.
“Thank you, York, for being one of my homes and for giving me a shot and for looking past a lot of my history and seeing me as the person I am today,” Thistle said. “It is important to believe in second chances and to put yourself out there, and to be accepted at a place like York is incredible. Tentanda Via: The way must be tried, is the motto of York University; I hold that in my heart.”
Thistle, who is Métis-Cree from Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, is currently an assistant professor in Métis Studies at York and a PhD candidate in history. In his heartbreaking and heartwarming memoir, he shares his struggle as a high school dropout and his relationships with family and friends throughout his life. The memoir chronicles his life on the streets and how he overcame trauma and addiction to discover the truth about who he is.
While pursuing his undergraduate degree, Thistle was awarded the Dr. James Wu Prize for Best Honours Thesis and Major Research Project. In 2016 he won a Governor General’s Academic Medal, and has been recognized as a Pierre Elliott Trudeau Scholar and a Vanier Scholar. From the Ashes is a national bestseller, a CBC Canada Reads finalist and an Indigo Best Book of 2019.
Now a rising Indigenous scholar, Thistle spoke to Kirchner and listeners candidly and honestly about the experiences that led him to where he is today, and how he found his way back into the circle of his Indigenous culture and family through education.
“When I connected with the Indigenous community at York I started feeling like I actually belonged,” Thistle explained. “I could see that there were other older Indigenous students like me with similar backgrounds and we formed a fellowship, right there in York Lanes. They pulled me into ASAY [Aboriginal Students’ Association at York], I started running pow wows and I found a home – a real home.
“In a lot of ways, York re-indigenized me. I know historically these institutions took away indigeneity, but we’re in a different era. We’re helping foster senses of identity through academics, and York was a huge part of that. I’m very thankful.”