Alayna Tootoosis: Culture and education are assets for youth
Alayna Tootoosis may be young, but she’s already making her mark in the world by sharing her knowledge of the Cree language.
Alayna is a member of the Poundmaker First Nation and Battleford Tribal Council. She takes great pride in her Aboriginal heritage, and is a regular participant in cultural events. Alayna speaks Cree, and can often be found telling traditional Cree stories at language festivals. “I’ve done this for most of my life. I like to be involved with the festivals because I enjoy being a story teller,” she says. “I have a chance to see people I know and to meet new people too.”
In 2001, Alayna won a SaskTel Aboriginal Youth Award of Excellence for Culture, an award given to a youth between 13 to 19 years of age who actively promotes Aboriginal culture, values and languages in school and the community. “I felt good when I was told I was being nominated. I considered it an honour just to be nominated and I didn’t think too much about winning. I was surprised to hear my name called as the winner at the awards ceremony. My parents were there with me for support, and I know it was a proud moment for them when I went up to receive the award.”
Alayna credits her parents for instilling in her the values of culture and for teaching her the language. “My parents spoke Cree to me when I was young, and in fact, that was my first language until I went to school.”
Her parents also taught her the value and importance of education, and of completing Grade 12. Alayna took that advice to heart, and accomplished a feat that very few students manage to do. “I went every single day for 14 years, even on days that I wasn’t feeling well or there were other things to do. I never missed one day of school.” Her mother hosted a round dance at the end of May in honour of Alayna’s stellar school attendance record and for graduating Grade 12.
Another one of her passions is taking part in sporting events. Alayna was a regular participant at the Indian Summer Games and the Indian Winter Games each year. Though she is no longer eligible to compete, she hopes that she may be able to coach the athletes.
She recently graduated from Grade 12, and is attending the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon. Now as she embarks on the next phase of her life, she offers this advice to other kids in school. “Stay in school and finish grade 12. When you’re done, you can move on to bigger and better things. It’s important to go to school everyday. If you don’t, you miss out on a lot.”
Andrea Micklewright: Her mind for numbers adds up to success
Andrea Micklewright is the Accounting Supervisor with Kocsis Transport Ltd., a First Nations owned and operated company located on the urban reserve in Saskatoon. Andrea began working there a year and a half ago in a job created for her with the mandate that she develop processes and manuals for each of the company’s four accounting positions: accounts receivable, accounts payable, payroll and accounting supervisor.
“I supervise our accounts receivable, payable and payroll clerks. I ensure that policies and procedures are followed for accounting processes and that the general ledger is up to date and accurate. I do the month end reporting to the president and CEO, and give him cash flow updates daily. We have an outside auditor that comes in every year, and I do the preparation work before the audit.”
Andrea finds this career very rewarding because she creates efficiency in the workplace. “I like identifying problems and finding solutions to help make everyone’s job a little easier. I’ve implemented processes and policies to work approaches that have eased the workload and stress on the accounting staff, which makes work much more enjoyable for everyone.”
Andrea grew up in Saskatoon and after completing high school, she worked for two years, but wasn’t satisfied in her job because she knew there was more to work than bringing home a paycheque. “It was an okay job, and I didn’t know if I could go back to school, but I decided that since I was interested in accounting, I was going to go for it. I knew school would mean I’d have to live with less money, and I became poor for a while, but it was really worth it in the end.”
Andrea enrolled in the Computer Accounting Technician program through the Saskatoon Business College. She completed the eight month course and earned a diploma, but began working while still in class. “In my last month of studies, I had the opportunity to work for METSI, the Métis Employment and Training of Saskatchewan for a one month placement, which happened to be during their audit time. I felt like I was able to give something back to them for funding me to take this course. They liked my work and after I received my diploma, they offered me a job. I worked at METSI for two and a half years as finance manager, and that experience led me to my current job.”
Andrea’s advice for others interested in accounting is to pursue that interest, and to have faith in your abilities. “You need Grade 12, and some computer skills, but mostly, you have to believe in yourself,” she says. “Push yourself. You’re the only person who is going to make you achieve a goal.”
Carrie Bourassa: Education was the start of an interesting path
Carrie Bourassa is an Assistant Professor with the Department of Science at the First Nations University of Canada in Regina. She teaches Indian Health studies for the university’s certificate program.“I enjoy what I do,” says Carrie. “I teach using a holistic Aboriginal perspective toward healing. In the class, I look at components such as the impact of colonization on Aboriginal people’s health, access to health care, employment, education levels and other aspects that affect our health.”Growing up, Carrie’s Métis heritage was hidden from her, and upon discovering her culture, she eagerly began to learn what it means to be Métis. “The first step is talking to someone you trust, and then get in touch with an elder in any community because they will help and guide you. Elders come from all different backgrounds, beliefs, and nations, but they’re all very supportive.”In class, she’s not only proud to show her heritage, she’s pleased to help others feel that pride too. “I hold a sharing circle at the end of the semester, and I always have at least one or two students who say they’re Aboriginal and were ashamed of it, but now they want to find out more. That is just one of the things that makes the class worthwhile for me.” Carrie wasn’t always interested in a health career; in fact, she had a clear goal in mind and pursued it. “My background is in Political Science,” she says. “I went to the University of Regina, did a Bachelor of Arts Honours program in Political Science, then did my Master’s program immediately afterwards. “I started working on my PhD two years ago and plan to complete the program this fall.”After earning her Master’s degree, Carrie found work with the provincial government. She worked on the Aboriginal Cultural Awareness Program, worked for the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and later for the University of Regina as the Manager of Employment Equity. While working for the government, Carrie began teaching at the university as a sessional instructor and four years later in 2001, she made teaching her primary career and became a faculty member.
“My career has certainly taken different twists and turns,” she says.Carrie credits the love and support of her family for helping her get to where she is today. “Education was always impressed upon me as very important. Even when my parents didn’t understand the challenges I faced in university, they supported me and encouraged me to continue. I’m proof that an education can take you places you don’t expect to go. Despite the fact that it’s hard work or that you have to be on student loans, it’s worth it because an education is the only way out of the cycle of poverty. Whether it’s a university degree or certificate or diploma from a tech school, you’re more employable.”
Connie Big Eagle: Life experiences offer valuable education
Connie Big Eagle is the chief of Ocean Man First Nation and an entrepreneur. Elected as chief in January 2003 for a three-year term, she is the representative for her First Nation at the different levels of government and she is involved with all aspects of the band’s business and well being. “I attend those meetings and listen to what they have to say and what they have to offer. For example if it’s regarding a resource that our reserve has, I try to get the business or get a project going. If there is a need to fight for housing for band members, that’s what I do,” she says.
Connie finished high school and went on to study education in university. A summer job led to a full time job, and though she has not yet completed her degree, her work has continued to be in education. “I worked with kids in Northern Manitoba, letting them experience summer camp, then I worked with special needs children in Winnipeg for about five years.”
During this time, Connie grasped the opportunity to go on a women’s exchange program in Trinidad. “I was the only First Nations person on the exchange. It was a valuable life experience for me. I spent five months of my life there, and I find that what I learned is relevant in so many situations today. I always refer back to that experience.”
Now as chief, Connie is setting out on another new experience. Previously not elected into First Nations politics she was exposed to this career for much of her life. Her mother was a councillor on White Bear and after Ocean Man was reestablished, her mother served as chief. When her mother became ill, Connie took a leave of absence from her job to return home to help. “I took her to band meetings, took notes, accompanied her to events and just did what I could to help her. Politics was part of her life and I wanted to help her keep doing this important work.”
Before she became chief, Connie became an entrepreneur by utilizing the resources she had in order to earn a living. “I had a 15 passenger van, and I decided that I would use it as a small transportation business. I approached the band and asked if I could have the bussing contract to take the kids to and from school. I got that contract and also I let people know that I was available for hire.”
As chief and an entrepreneur, Connie offers these words of advice to youth: “Let your dreams be your guide,” she says. “Do whatever you want to do, but also remember to be giving. Volunteer your time, visit the Elders, talk to people and do small courteous acts for others. Treat others the way you want to be treated.”
Joely BigEagle-Pasapa: Engineering her future to help First Nations people
Joely BigEagle-Pasapa is studying engineering at the University of Calgary. She will complete her degree in April 2004, with a major in Civil Engineering and a minor in Environmental Engineering.
“I’m interested in caring for the earth and designing different things that can help to improve some of the methods and processes we use today, such as with water treatment. I’m interested also in energy efficient homes. Ultimately what I want to do is project management on First Nations. I want to be involved in community development.”
Joely discovered an interested in engineering while taking a drafting class in high school. She attended school in her home community of White Bear First Nation, which is located in southeastern Saskatchewan. “I really liked the whole design process, and drawing and that started me wondering where this type of work led. Engineering was one place, architecture was another.”
She graduated high school and later attended the Saskatchewan Indian Federated College at the University of Regina, earning a Bachelor of Science degree in mathematics. Her strong background in mathematics has been a tremendous asset to her engineering studies. “You need mathematics, physics, chemistry, and you really need to have an understanding of geometry. The basics that you learn in grade 7 and 8 really help you later on. I didn’t grasp it that well at the time, and I had a tough time with mathematics when I started university, but I had some excellent teachers who helped me get through it.”
Living away from her home community and her family has been tough for Joely, and she offers these words of advice to other students: “You really need the support of family and friends. My children have always influenced and motivated me, and my mother has always been there to support me. Seek out people who will support you in your education, and who will encourage you to finish, especially if you move away from home to another city. I lived in Regina for a long time, and moving to Calgary was a culture shock. It’s a different atmosphere, and you have to adjust, but you can’t do it in isolation. If there’s a First Nations’ student association, join it. Volunteer, join a committee or a club – step out of your boundaries. You’ll find that there are many other students who are in the same situation as you, and it will make the adjustment a bit easier.”
Mona Charles: Riding the air waves of success
Mona Charles knows firsthand how a summer job can lead to a full time rewarding career in a completely different field.
Mona is a member of the La Ronge First Nation and works as a broadcaster for Missinipi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) in La Ronge, Saskatchewan. She took a summer job as a receptionist/secretary with the radio station in 1997, and was later hired on permanently. After two and a half years in this job, a new opportunity came her way.
“I was asked to voice a commercial,” says Mona. “I was really excited to hear my voice on radio for the first time,” says Mona.
Her first taste of on-air fame gave her the bug to do more commercials, and eventually her chance to do more on-air work came. “I was going to take an office education course for my job, then the former CEO asked me if I was interested in working on-air because at that time, the station was short staffed for on-air announcers. For three months, I worked as the secretary from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. and then from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m., I was on air.”
Mona received training, advice and guidance from her co-workers, and by the end of the three months, she became a full time on-air personality for MBC, which broadcasts in 55 communities from northern points like Uranium City, Stony Rapids and Black Lake to southern parts like Regina and Saskatoon via cable.
Now going into her seventh year with MBC, she has become a recognized radio personality and proficient behind-the-scenes producer of her daily program.
“I produce, edit and voice my own commercials for on-air production, program the show, slot in commercials, prepare a short newscast with weather and sports, host a request show and do voice tracking for the hours after my shift. I’m on air from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m., then my voice track is heard from 10 p.m. until midnight. I also program a Saturday night dance party aimed for youth.”
Mona enjoys the fast pace and variety that comes with her job. “MBC plays a bit of everything. I like the request program because I get to know the people who call in, the regular listeners. I never thought I’d take this career path, but I’m glad it worked out because radio is definitely a lot of fun and it has a lot of energy. It’s a great medium to carry on traditional story telling and educating listeners about our culture”
Looking to the future, Mona plans to broaden her broadcast horizons. “MBC recently started a television station. I am interested in moving to work in TV, so I’m considering returning to school to learn that aspect of the industry and to earn my journalism credentials. I believe that having that degree or certificate will open more doors for me.”
Nick Daigneault: Bringing education and culture to the Internet
Nick Daigneault is the primary web site designer at the Keewatin Career Devlopment Corporation (KCDC) Headwaters Project in Ile-a-la-Crosse, Saskatchewan. “We make a variety of web pages for services or people who want a web page,” he says. “I design pages internally for our company and also I create educational pages for our distant education initiative.”
KCDC’s Headwaters project offers distance education to Northern students. Most students have to move to southern parts of the province to attend high school because there aren’t any high schools in the north. “I especially enjoy building education pages because I know it can benefit a lot of people. I know there are a lot of people in Northern Saskatchewan who don’t go to high school or want to find another way of finishing high school so hopefully we’re helping them.”
There is also a cultural aspect to his job. “I helped create a website – www.kayas.ca – it’s a heritage site featuring information about Aboriginal people and languages in the north. I’m also working on a site for the Ile-a-la-Crosse School Division that will feature Michif language resources where teachers and visitors alike can come and learn about the Métis culture. I really enjoy this work because I feel like I’m giving something back. It’s very rewarding.”
Nick graduated Grade 12 from Beauval, then completed the Northern Professional Access College (NORPAC) Science program and upon completion in 2001, began working at KCDC. In 2002, he moved to Ile-a-la-Crosse and since then, has continued to upgrade his computer skills. He took Certified Internet Webmaster and A+ training through distance education and then challenged the exam at the Academy of Learning in Prince Albert. “I ordered the materials and learned at my own pace. I went through the materials, did some hands-on work and after a couple of months I was ready to challenge the exam.”
He offers this advice to other considering a career in the
computer related field: “Expand your options,”
he says. “There are so many different aspects of what
you can do on a computer – web page design, multimedia,
graphic arts – and if you dabble in each one a bit,
you’ll find the one you really enjoy. Also, there are
a lot of people out there who will help you find the right
school and the right training for the type of work you want
to do. All you have to do is ask.”
Nick has added in a few noteworthy links:
Shawn Wasacase: A good job with good pay starts with a good education
Shawn Wasacase works as a Process Operator at the Consumer’s Cooperative Refinery Limited in Regina. He is a Third Class Steam Engineer and is one of the people responsible for the proper operation of part of the system used in the heavy oil refining process.
“I’m responsible for a very large area that includes five or six towers. I make sure it’s a safe environment for the other people working in the area, like mechanics and construction people, and ensure that they’re following the safety rules,” he says. “We also ensure that product specifications for gas and oil are met according to the instructions of the refinery’s unit engineers.”
Shawn is member of the Kahkewistahow First Nation. He graduated Grade 12 from Broadview School and later went to work for the Yorkton Tribal Council. “While I was working, I took a Building Operators course offered by SIIT (Saskatchewan Indian Institute of Technology) and earned my Fifth Class Stationary Engineer ticket. When I began working at the refinery, the requirement was a minimum of Fourth Class so while I worked, I took a correspondence course from SAIT (Southern Alberta Institute of Technology) to earn my Fourth Class.”
Shawn also needed to learn the complete workings of two of the refinery’s units within two years. Each unit had a manual of about 400 pages, and Shawn had to know them down to the smallest detail. This accomplishment inspired him to go another step further. “Then I went on to get my Third Class, just for myself, and I earned it within four months.”
Shawn enjoys his work and finds it very rewarding. “I like figuring things out,” he says. “To do this job, a person really has to know instrumentation well, how the control strategies work, how a control valve works, how to troubleshoot – it’s a very complex job. There are times on the night shift where you spend most of the time just preparing for the next day, but every so often problems arise and you have to spend the night troubleshooting and fixing problems of a chemical or mechanical nature. I feel a great sense of accomplishment when I’m able to figure things out and get things running smoothly again.”
Shawn credits his success to his strong will and determination to receive an education. “I had a tough life on the reserve, but I believe that education saved my life. I tell kids that they should never miss school because it is the key to life, and to never give up because anything is possible, but there are sacrifices that need to be made too. I worked irregular shifts for years, and it was challenging because I’m a single parent, but my sacrifices paid off because now I have a good job with good pay and I’m able to set a positive example for my son.”
Sheldon Wuttunee: Teaching culture in the classroom
Sheldon Wuttunee is a member of Red Pheasant First Nation and an educator on Mosquito First Nation. He splits his time between teaching students who have behaviour and learning challenges and teaching First Nations culture, which is combined with native studies and social studies. The culture component features teachings about dancing, storytelling, singing and other traditions such as how to serve at feasts.
His decision to become an educator was based on his own positive experiences in school. During his school years, he also saw a lack of exposure to First Nations culture and content, and believed that as an educator, he could advocate change. “I think it’s taken for granted that our cultural traditions are taught in the home when a lot of cases it isn’t,” says Sheldon. “Exposing kids to our traditional teachings will help them to form their identity, and when they become teens, they’ll be able to make more positive decisions. I think it will help them feel proud to be First Nations and give them more confidence to speak up for themselves. I think it’s important to instill those values into young people.”
Sheldon sees the difference he is making in his students’ lives, which is the biggest reward in his career. “I work with students who face more learning challenges than other students either because of behaviour or learning disabilities. Often these students haven’t learned to read at an acceptable level for their age, for any number of reasons. Over time, they’ve improved to the point where they ask to take home books. I’ve had parents thank me for not giving up on their children. These moments make the job worthwhile.”
Sheldon went to school in North Battleford and Saskatoon. He graduated high school and went on to earn a Bachelors Degree in Education from the Indian Teacher Education Program (ITEP) at the University of Saskatchewan. He is also working towards his Masters of Education Degree, focusing on the development of First Nations Language Immersion Education Programs. “I think it is very important to revitalize First Nations languages,” says Sheldon. “We are all responsible for keeping our traditions strong, and that includes the survival of our languages. Languages are the foundations of our people; languages are fundamental to our ceremonies. It’s every First Nations person’s responsibility to take the initiative and learn their own language.”
Education is important to Sheldon, and he encourages youth to stay in school, pursue a career goal and lead a healthy, balanced life. “Find a balance between traditional teachings and the formal, mainstream education that school teaches. Surround yourself with people who will enable you to make healthy choices for yourself. Talk to and spend time with Elders, peers and family, and respect your parents. It is difficult for kids today with outside factors such as alcohol, drugs and gangs, but each person is able to make their own choices in life.”
Yvette Sunchild: Carrying on a family tradition
Yvette Sunchild is a Home Care Consultant with Saskatchewan Health, Community Care Branch, Regina. “I work closely with the three northern health regions: Athabasca Health Authority, Keewatin Yathe Regional Health Authority & Mamawetan Churchill River Regional Health Authority, with their Home Care and Long Term Care programs. Currently, I’m working at revising the Provincial Home Care Policy Manual,” says Yvette. “I like program development because it gives me a sense of accomplishment, that my work is helping people in a broader sense.”
Yvette is a Registered Nurse, and has been working in health care for about 10 years. Her decision to become a nurse was influenced by family members already working in health care. “My grandmother was a gifted woman and practised traditional medicine, she helped my family and any others who sought her help; my mother is trained as a Nursing Aide (Special Care Aide), and worked in the hospital, in Long-term Care and in Home Care; my Aunt is the Medical Transportation Coordinator for my band and two of my cousins are also diploma RNs.”
Yvette graduated Grade 12 from Beauval Indian Education Centre in 1990 and began training for a nurse. In 1993, she completed the Saskatchewan Indian Institute of Technology/Saskatchewan Institute of Applied Science and Technology (SIIT/SIAST) Indian Diploma Nursing Program. Yvette worked as a health aide in a Personal Care Home and Home Care while going to school to become an RN. After obtaining her RN license, she began work as a Home Care Nurse.
“With my band, Thunderchild First Nation, having entered into the Health Transfer Agreement, I decided as an RN that I needed to acquire a more managerial perspective of health care. In 1999, I received my Health Administration Diploma with Academic Excellence from SIIT.”
Yvette’s thirst for increased knowledge didn’t end there; in 2002, she enrolled in the Post Registration BSN Program at the University of Saskatchewan and in 2003, received her degree at the fall convocation ceremony. Completing the program in one year is a notable accomplishment – customarily, students have five years to finish all required classes.
Yvette plans to earn her masters degree in Nursing, possibly a Masters Advanced Nurse Practitioner sometime in the near future. She has strong support and encouragement to pursue her dream from family, coworkers and her band. Equally, Yvette encourages other Aboriginal people to explore a career in health. “There are so many different fields to choose from – it’s not just working in a hospital anymore. We need more First Nations people to work in health care, with First Nations health programs both on and off reserve. If anyone is interested in becoming a health professional, I tell them to ‘Go for it’.”
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