Larissa brings vision and passion into the room with her, and her inspiration comes from the roots of lived experience. Larissa grew up in a trailer park in rural Alberta where boiling the water clean, trips to the food banks, stuffing your face with wild raspberries before dinner, and spending entire days making intricate play structures in the bush were, in her young mind, normal things to do. She lived there with her mum and two younger sisters until they later moved to Southern.
“Growing up, my mum always told my sisters and I that our hair and skin are beautiful, that people love and want what we’ve been gifted. She instilled in me a very strong sense of self-love, especially with regards to how we looked. I didn’t go to kindergarten, so I went straight to grade 1. When I came back home from my first day of school, I cried to my mum. I was angry at her. I told her, ‘You lied, no one wants my hair or skin. You lied to me.’
Looking back, this was a pivotal moment: this was when I began to internalize anti-Black racism and it informed my behaviors and actions. I’ve spent a lifetime unlearning the inferiority of my beauty and value that I was taught to believe.”
“It was not safe, growing up, to disclose that I am Indigenous. In some ways I have a privilege of choosing what racism I experience: I was the target of so much anti-Black racism, and I chose not to disclose to my peers that I am also Métis. This way, I could avoid an additional layer of targeted anti-Indigenous racism. This didn’t shield me from the harm of anti-Indigenous racism, though.
My peers didn’t know I am Indigenous by way of their assumptions of what an Indigenous person ‘looks like,’ and would share horribly racist beliefs. I had two lives where my reality at school was explicitly separate from the weekends and holidays spent with our Native family and friends on the land.
I internalized a fear of disclosing my Indigeneity as a result of this exposure, and was not able to exist as my full self until the last few years of my university degree.”
At the age of 13, Larissa began working with school, district, and provincial councils to address racism in the education system and to celebrate the achievement, knowledge, and existence of Black and Indigenous students. An important part of this work was positioning Indigenous knowledge of Earth and our relationships to Earth as valuable. As much as the racism she and people like her face fueled her drive, Larissa was equally fueled by her love for being on the land and the teachings she received from Earth.
Larissa learned about globalization and colonialism in grade 10, and with the shocking evidence of extreme poverty and harm experienced around the globe, she was inspired to take action. At age 16, she initiated a fundraiser to collect books and school supplies for Let Us Shine Academy in Kpandai District, Ghana and for the Kainai Blood Reserve public library in Alberta, Canada. With the support of her school teachers she traveled to Ghana and her school adopted Let Us Shine Academy as a sister school.
Her experience in Ghana led Larissa to a university program that would allow her to explore theoretical and practical knowledge about history, disrcrimination, and climate change. After graduating high school with a 4.0 GPA and funding her entire university education on scholarships, Larissa enrolled at York University in a double honours major in International Development Studies and Communication Studies. In her second year at York University, she completed a full-year exchange to Turkey where she studied International Law and provided support to refugees during the 2015 Ebola and refugee crises. Throughout her university degree Larissa traveled all over Europe, Asia, North America, and South America for work, studies, and volunteering. Larissa sought out every opportunity she could to enrich her life and widen her lived experience.
During this time, Larissa also became aware of the limitations of her lived experiences. Through critical self-reflection and some of her university courses, she concluded that she did not have the lived experiences or appropriate knowledge to do some of the volunteer work she was doing. So, she started orienting her work closer to home. By finding Black and Indigenous peers and mentors through workshops, council, and conferences at her university, and by confronting the trauma and internalized self-hate associated with her identities and communities, she also found the best way to apply her skills and resources to make ethical and sustainable impacts.
When Larissa’s daughter, Zyra, was born at the beginning of her 4th of a 5 year university program, Larissa’s commitment to her work and studies was gifted a sense of profound and personal urgency.
Larissa graduated Summa Cum Laude (4.0 GPA) in 2018 with the most acclaimed leadership award at the university. She crossed the stage with her 2-year-old daughter, Zyra on her hip! Even while studying, and parenting, Larissa continued to lead initiatives to improve anti-racism and Indigenous accessibility policies at her university as a volunteer and as the university’s Aboriginal Special Initiatives Coordinator, among other roles.
After graduating, Larissa became disabled at 23 years old. As a result of racism experienced in the healthcare system, she had worsened and permanent debilitation that unnecessarily led to two life saving surgeries. While navigating these new realities, Larissa worked with the Government of Ontario as an Indigenous Policy Advisor with the Ministry of Energy, Northern Development, and Mines; as an Advisor at the Ontario Anti-Racism Directorate, Ministry of the Solicitor General; as a community mediator and restorative circle keeper with several organizations; and more.
In 2019, Larissa reached a point where racism, ableism (discrimination associated with her disabilities), and ageism (discrimination associated with her age) in her workplaces were having real and serious impacts on her well-being and self-value. Larissa quit her last job and gave herself 4 months to start Future Ancestors Services. She wanted to do this for 6 years, but waited until she had acquired the necessary skills, network (especially Founding Directors Chúk Odenigbo and Samantha Matters), understanding of the sector, and personal savings to do it right.
Future Ancestors Services is an Indigenous and Black-owned, youth-led professional services social enterprise that advances climate justice and systemic barrier removal with lenses of anti-racism and ancestral accountability. Through an intergenerational, disabled, and queer team of professionals and advisors, they provide speaking, training, research and consulting services, and influencer and interview services to +300 diverse clients. They do this while centering decolonized and Indigenized practices, and are constantly reimagining how we can learn, relate, and work together in healthy ways.
Larissa’s career as an activist is in many ways a result of the decentralized education that she’s received from fellowships like the CohortX Climate Justice, the Action Canada, and the Youth Climate Lab FutureXChange fellowships, the Raven Trust Capital Fireweed Fellowship, and the Students on Ice Arctic Policy Cohort. In 2020-22, Larissa’s work was honoured in Women of Influence’s Top 25 list; in Refinery Canada’s 29 Powerhouses; as York University’s inaugural Top 30 Under 30 Alumni; in HuffPost’s 26 Indigenous Influencers to Follow; and with the Pollution Probe Equity in Sustainability Award. She supports international brands such as Merrell, Buff, and The Body Shop in better serving and representing her communities.
Fifteen years after Larissa began her journey in anti-racism and Indigenous research and policy advising, she has made a career and life that spawns from a celebration of her values, identities, her love for Earth, and the communities she belongs to. She commits to this work and activism with the understanding that, just as we’ve inherited our realities from our ancestors, her actions and inactions as a future ancestor will shape the realities that present and future generations- and Zyra- will inherit.