Every so often there are moments in life that define who we are and what path we choose to take. For Andrew Judge, BA ‘08, one of those moments presented itself during his third year of university after discovering Indigenous Services at Western. A young, ambitious Philosophy student with a passion for First Nations studies, he became actively involved with the centre for the duration of his studies.

Written By Agnes Chick 

“Coming across Indigenous Services completely changed my life,” says Judge. “Not only did it help me get in touch with my roots, but I started to understand the plight of our people and how to help other First Nations with these services.”

Born in London, Ontario, of Anishinaabe and Irish descent, Judge is a member of the Turtle Clan (Meshekenh n’doodem), and his spirit name is Bear Walker (Mko Mose). Judge was curious to learn more about his culture, heritage and language, but discovering Indigenous Services gave him more than he could have ever imagined. Through his participation with Indigenous Services, his exposure to First Nations students sparked a fire in him to educate youth about ancestral teachings.

Indigenous Services offered Judge with yet another defining moment in his life: a chance to mentor youth in an Indigenous science camp in Wikwemikong, Manitoulin Island. When Judge was approached by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) Centre for Prevention Science (CPS) to speak at a conference for First Nations’ eighth graders, he eagerly accepted. Judge made a lasting impression within the organization and, shortly after graduation, he was offered a position at the CPS as a youth liaison coordinator.

There, Judge began designing, facilitating and implementing mentoring programs for Indigenous elementary and secondary students. Located at Western University’s Research and Development Park, the CPS houses “Fourth R,” a comprehensive violence prevention and healthy relationship program for adolescents. Judge spent the next year networking with local First Nations community members. Surrounded by an inspirational and hardworking group of people, he was encouraged to apply for his master’s. The following year he accepted an offer from Western University’s Faculty of Education for the Master of Arts in Education program, with a focus on First Nations.

“For the first time in my life, I was surrounded by individuals dedicated to improving their education and the world around them.” 

In the second year of his master’s, Judge organized a large gathering on equity and multiculturalism at the London Convention Centre for his research project. He was offered a chance to speak at Fanshawe College on power in a First Nations context, and soon found himself designing two courses for the College. In no time, Judge went from being a guest speaker to a lecturer and was even asked to design the First Nations program. An intimidating task for any young alumnus, Judge consulted 40 community members and prepared a detailed outline to implement the program. In September 2012, the First Nations program was officially launched at Fanshawe.

“I essentially created my job from scratch!” says Judge, who is now the curriculum development coordinator for the First Nations’ Studies major at Fanshawe College. “With the support of some incredible colleagues, a vision, and with a manager who trusted me, we developed something that did not exist three short years ago. It’s been quite fun.”

Before discovering his path in life, Judge attended John Paul II Secondary School and was a star track athlete. He took some time after graduation to consider his postsecondary options. After his best friend spent a year at King’s, Judge decided to apply to the Philosophy program. While he continued a successful track career with the Western Mustangs, receiving an individual gold medal at the Canadian Interuniversity Sport championships for long jump, Judge also thrived in the King’s community and explored ways to get involved with student life.

“For the first time in my life, I was surrounded by individuals dedicated to improving their education and the world around them,” says Judge, admitting that the transition to university was a difficult one to make. “In high school, there were people who had an attitude that failure was acceptable and cool. I know many people wondered if I’d even graduate. But once I was exposed to the King’s vibe and such a large group of incredible people, where failure was never a thought on anyone’s mind, my learning and drive accelerated exponentially.”

Judge’s love for education continues to grow in his professional life. He is currently completing his PhD research, seeking to re-establish gete-Anishinaabe-izhichigewin (ancient Anishinaabe customs) by articulating the nature of Anishinaabeg minobimaadiziwin (living the good life) through an academic lens. He hopes that Anishinaabe students gain the opportunity to learn the truth about their ancestors in their formal educational years.

It’s not surprising that when Judge was in Grade 9, he had envisioned running his own school one day. Although he still dreams of doing so, he now sees himself opening a school that is grounded in Indigenous philosophy and completely sustainable, including its own food gardens.

Judge may be early in his career, but he’s already made an astonishing impact on First Nations’ studies, giving Indigenous youth a voice in the world of academia. A self-sustaining school that incorporates ancestral teachings is just within his reach.