Tim O’Loan

Military & Indigenous Survivor - First Nation's Expert

Tim O’Loan comes from two wounded communities: one military, one Indigenous. A is a proud indigenous (Sahtu Dene) Veteran, having served 10 years (1983-1993) in the military. Throughout Tims life he experienced massive amounts of racism and trauma. The racism and his search for his identity was something Tim struggled with until his mid 40’s when he started working at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). While he was at the TRC his mental health started to decline as he realized how his story was similar to the survivors of residential schools story, one of a lifetime of trauma.

Tim O’Loan joined the army at 17 — partly to escape an adoptive father who was physically and emotionally abusive, in fact his father named him “Dim Tim”. Tim’s 10 years of service included a time when the military was called out the Oka Crisis. “Soldiers had no qualms,” he says, about sharing their feelings about Indigenous people. Anxious to avoid confrontations with fellow soldiers, he endured taunting, bullying and other abuse while trying to fit into the brotherhood, he struggled with issues of identity and self-worth. Tim O’Loan served at military bases in Winnipeg, Petawawa and Baden, Germany. At 27, O’Loan decided to leave the only career he had ever known: “I couldn’t do it anymore. I left the military physically and spiritually wounded.”

Like many survivors of physical and sexual abuse, Tim “packed away” his trauma and pondered his next steps in his life. He had promised his mother he would go back to school if he ever left the military, but he never thought he’d actually have to act on the vow. His only non-military job had been pumping gas as a teenager. Despite the struggles, Tim enrolled as a special student at Carleton University. Tim studied political sciences and received failing grades on his first four essays. He persisted and celebrated when he received his first ‘D.’ It took him four years to earn a three-year bachelor’s degree, even then he was very proud of his accomplishments as he never saw a future of college, let alone university.

The degree set him on a new path. In 1997, Tim O’Loan moved to the Northwest Territories, where members of his Dené family, including his grandfather, still lived. His grandfather was a trapper who had moved to Yellowknife to gift his children a modern education and modern healthcare, sadly to have all his children taken off to residential schools. From 1998-2006, he was a Land Claims and Self Government Negotiator and Intergovernmental Relations for the Government of the NWT. In 2006 Tim felt his BA was a good start but needed to hone in his writing skills, so in 2006 Tim and his family moved to Ottawa for his MA in Canadian Studies at Carleton University. In 2010, he was asked to join the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) as the Advisor to the TRC Chair, the Hon. Murray Sinclair.

Given his unique history, Tim O’Loan now identifies as a knowledge keeper and continues to share this unique perspective across Canada and beyond, particularly through the Indigenous Veterans lens, mental health and Reconciliation.  He is also a proud volunteer of the Veterans Ombuds Advisory Council, the Aboriginal Veterans Association (AVA) and the Assembly of First Nations Veterans Council. Tim is the founder of an Ottawa based community reconciliation initiative called “Mamawi Together”.  Its intent to engage and educate parents, students and community members in putting Reconciliation into action.

While Tim O’Loan was with the TRC and since, he made several presentations on Reconciliation to a range of institutions and a number of stakeholders. He continues to share this unique perspective to all levels of government, educational institutions and the private sector across Canada and the United States.

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