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This Week in Geek’s Mike “The Birdman” Dodd

Can you tell me what it was like for you growing up as a young indigenous person in Ontario? What were the positives and negatives of your childhood?

I’m from an area on Georgian Bay near Owen Sound, ON, which is near my reservation, Cape Croker. Despite having a fairly strong Native presence in the area, I didn’t go to school with a lot of Native kids. When I went to my first elementary school, I was one of about three. It wasn’t overly racist, but there were definitely some race-related incidents that happened during my childhood. Most notably, I got beat up by neo-nazis when I was in grade seven/eight in Owen Sound walking home one night with a couple of friends. Surprisingly, it’s actually come up in the news recently that there’s been a surge in race-related incidents in Owen Sound.

I was raised by a white family, and did not have a relationship with my biological mother who was Native. I was adopted out by her when I was very young. She had me when she was 15 years old. She had a much more close relationship with her family, but I did not have the pleasure of that, unfortunately. I wasn’t exposed a lot to my culture. I remember going to a pow wow once, maybe twice, at Cape Croker. My family didn’t really try to raise me in the traditional “Native” sense. I was made aware that I was a “status Indian” and that entitled me to education and certain tax benefits and what-not and that’s really about the extent of it. I learned more from my elementary school than I ever did from my parents. 

 

So I’d say a lot of the negatives of my childhood involved growing up in a very sheltered community. Not a lot of Indigenous or mixed-race children went to my high school either, despite being so close to a reservation. I did have a best friend who was Native, but we kind of drifted apart around grade nine or ten. Indigenous youth in Ontario, depending on where they grow up, can have a lot of kids on their side or remarkably few. Some communities are welcoming, some are very much not. You’re definitely a by-product of where you grow up. That’s not to slam the Grey-Bruce Area where I come from. It’s just that’s been my experience.

 

 

What has been the biggest challenge for you in your life and how did you overcome it?

A lot of Indigenous people, unfortunately, have mental health issues, struggling with addiction or depression or basically feeling like you’re stuck where you are. At least that’s the perception I’ve always gotten when I look at a lot of groups on Facebook or conversations on Twitter. What drives and motivates me as an Indigenous Canadian though is knowing that I can be better if I choose to be. You are what you make of your situation and while I could fall back into bad habits or give into addiction, I’ve chosen not to. I’ve remained strong in my resolve that I will not be the stereotype. You have to have that strength of character, that fortitude in your mentality that you can overcome the problems facing you.

That being said, know that you don’t have to do so alone. I’m a big advocate for mental health services. So, I’ve reached out to counsellors, psychiatrists and psychologists, and through the Guelph Mental Health Association and my family doctor, I’ve been able to get my bipolar depression under control and I no longer experience as many high highs or really low lows. I always believe you have to drive yourself forward first, but be willing to use the resources around you. There is no shame or weakness in seeking help and that’s a very big motivator for me as well. If you think there’s something wrong, maybe there is. Reach out to community resources if you can find them. They should be readily available if you talk to your family doctor. If not, try the walk-in clinic, hospital, a nurse practitioner, just talk to someone in the health field. They’ll point you in the right direction. Society has been more kind to the arena of mental health recently than it ever has been.

And don’t give up, that’s most important. Things may seem shitty now, but they won’t always be. Keep moving forward, knowing that your family and friends are there with you to support you as best they can. You can help educate them as well about your struggles. Having an open line of dialogue with a couple of people that you trust always helps as well.

Tell me a little bit about This Week in Geek. How did it get started, what do you do and what other projects do you have on the go?

This Week in Geek was started between me and a couple of other students back in 2007 as a weekly show on the Niagara College campus radio station. Eventually we started reaching out to media companies such as video game publishers, movie studios, etc. and we started receiving review products and turning it into a multimedia machine back when podcasting was still fairly new. Apple only had podcasts out for a little while, so we were one of the first RSS feeds out there and we’re still running twelve years later, much to my surprise. It’s been fantastic. We’ve produced over 1200 episodes of content, which is over 52 days of continuous audio.

As for other projects I have on the go, I work on another podcast called Terrible Warriors, where we play different roleplay systems, such as Dungeons and Dragons, Pathfinder, Shadowrun, Battletech, basically anything that involves rolling dice. Sort of like Critical Role or Geek and Sundry. That’s another project where I’m one of the Patreon Gamemasters.

I also act as a radio contributor. I work with Corus Entertainment for stations in Toronto, Winnipeg and across the country to provide video game expert insight, and act as a geek culture commentator across various radio networks in Canada and the US.

How do you think being a First Nations Canadian has shaped who you are as a person?

It opened up doors for me by funding my education. It was instilled in me from a very young age that I have resources available for me that others don’t and to not take that for granted. It’s given me a different cultural perspective in a way, because despite being raised by a caucasian family, I’m starting to see things as a Native a little bit later in life. I can see how I was raised to “fit in”. So, being aware of my cultural identity now is helping me shape content. I’ve had several fans of This Week in Geek who are Native themselves say that I’ve helped inspire them. It’s inspiring to see a Native in the media who accepts who they are and doesn’t use it as a PR gimmick. It’s just, “That’s Mike Dodd and he’s Native and he’s awesome.”

It makes me want to become more aware of my heritage; the stories and language that I haven’t been exposed to. I talk with my biological mother’s family and I’m gaining some insight through them. It’s also lead me to find out about other things such as the Sixties Scoop, the residential schools, etc. Investigating stuff is leading me down some interesting avenues, and also learning what I may have been a part of.

What’s next for you? What are your future plans?

I’m going to be going in for a life-changing surgery perhaps later on this year to get my health into a better place, working towards getting a prosthetic leg and gaining my mobility back. 

Also continuing the podcast, continuing to be a media personality in the Canadian landscape, basically to be the “Dial-A-Geek” for Canadian media, showing off that not all internet personalities have to be a dumpster fire. There are some good ones out there. I hope to be counted among them.