Name: Larissa Crawford
Job title: Founder, Future Ancestors
Currently lives in: Calgary
Education: BA in international development studies and communication studies, York University; will attend University of Calgary next year for a Master’s of science in sustainable-energy development
First job out of school: Indigenous-policy adviser with the Ministry of Energy, Northern Development and Mines
“Being Black and Indigenous, I could choose what kind of racism I wanted to deal with,” says Larissa Crawford, reflecting on her time in elementary school in Lethbridge, Alb. Crawford’s father is Jamaican and her mother is Métis, and she remembers instances when her family was denied service at hospitals, hotels and restaurants while in the U.S. And the racism didn’t stop when they returned home. At her Alberta school, she faced overt anti-Black racism but was also surrounded by anti-Indigenous racism from peers who didn’t know that she is Métis. As a result, Crawford consciously kept her Indigeneity separate from her school life.
That changed in university, when a research project connected Crawford with other Black Indigenous people at York University who shared a similar lived experience. “I became so much more interested in understanding who I am and who my people are,” says Crawford, who was inspired to start working with the Aboriginal Student Centre at York and seek out both Black and Indigenous mentors, and she soon became a leading voice for anti-racism and anti-oppression.
“All of this led to me being more confident in vocalizing who I was,” she says. Crawford went on to be the 2018 G7 youth head delegate for Canada, and she also worked with the Government of Ontario as an Indigenous-policy adviser in the Ministry of Energy, Northern Development and Mines and as an adviser to the Ontario Anti-Racism Directorate. She recently graduated summa cum laude from York University with her 2-year-old daughter, Zyra, on her hip. And she hasn’t slowed down since graduation, continuing her work on advancing equity, climate justice and sustainability through her new company, Future Ancestors, which provides training, consulting and public-speaking services.
While Crawford has passion and drive, she says her mentors were essential to her success. Professor Lorne Foster, chair of York’s Race Inclusion & Supportive Environments, connected Crawford with the right people to get the Ontario Anti-Racism Directorate position. “His name has given me credibility when I walk into the room as a young Black woman,” she says. “Once I say that he’s my mentor, people see me in a different way.”
For those looking for mentorship, Crawford recommends a unique approach. Rather than asking people for help, she begins by asking “What can I do for you?” The 24-year-old says that people are often pleasantly surprised by the question and it can lead to great, meaningful opportunities. “You wouldn’t take without giving back, and I really look at how I can give back as much as I’ve been given,” she says.