Green(er) Houses and a Brighter Future: Jana Saskamoose Stretches Dollars and Chases Dreams
“Do what you love and take it one day at a time,” says graduate student Jana Saskamoose. She is from Ahtahkakoop First Nation and is currently completing a Masters of Science, interdisciplinary studies with concentrations in mathematics, statistics, geographic and social justice. Her thesis is about the incomes of First Nations people in First Nations communities - how much they make, how much they need to spend on their basic needs and the challenges associated with those conditions. She’s working on two different projects aligned with her research, one being a solar powered greenhouse and another about energy efficient housing.
Initially, Saskamoose completed a business administration degree at the First Nations University of Canada, starting in Prince Albert and then moving to Regina to finish it off sooner. She picked the degree program because of her interest in math. One of her instructors reached out to see what her plans were after graduation and opened her eyes to the idea that she could do more than just graduate studies in business. After considering a two-year certificate in statistics, another four year degree, or the interdisciplinary studies program, she decided to proceed with the degree program she’s in now.
When she was working on her bachelor’s degree, she took a year off to take care of herself and go berry picking with her kids. Each year of her degree she had another child and she brought her kids to class so she could nurse them. They came to her exams and midterms and driving in from the reserve in the winter was stressful.
The challenges she faced as a parent and a student were many, especially with her children’s father away for the first few years of her experience. He started his healing journey towards sobriety and was participating more but at one point, she was broken down on the side of the road in her car during a storm with her baby who was crying because she was hungry. It was not an easy path to her degree.
If she could give advice to students thinking about going to post secondary it would be “Always ask questions. Don't be afraid to ask, because if you're thinking of asking that question other students are, and they're just too afraid to ask. Just have the courage to ask everything and anything possible."
Thinking of her younger self, if she could send a message that would help back then it would be to pay attention in class. The only time Saskamoose had to dedicate to her studies and be able to focus was in class because after class she had her kids, commuting to school and her many responsibilities outside of school. Asking questions and paying attention were crucial because she was so time-crunched.
She also wishes she could tell herself to take good care of herself, too, to take time out for mental and emotional wellness. “Put yourself first sometimes and it's not the worst thing in the world,” Saskamoose would say. These days selfcare looks like doing activities she enjoys and doing things with her kids. Seeing her children happy brings her joy and being busy often tires them out so they are more relaxed at home.
When she needs inspiration, Saskamoose looks to her children and the generations to come. The rising costs of utilities and the average wages motivate her to look at how houses are built, how costs can be cut and what solutions can be implemented to make things more manageable. She’s interested in food sovereignty and community gardens so food can be preserved, communities can be more self-sufficient and also better prepared for challenges ahead. The costs of maintaining a vehicle can take away from a family’s food budget, especially when the roads on reserve are in need of repair and can cause damage. Those costs can add up and the decision between getting a car fixed or food on the table can be a tough one.
To inspire viewers, Saskamoose shares her tips on staying organized the way she did: making a prioritized list of tasks to do in a colour coordinated Word document, organizing assignments by date for all her classes. This helped her stay focused on what was needed next so she didn’t end up having to stay up late to finish something needed immediately because she took too much time on something with a later deadline. She recommends not getting overwhelmed and mapping it all out to stay on track.
Pursuing an interdisciplinary degree in grad school, Jana Saskamoose is doing what she loves and taking it one day at a time. Working hard on projects to help families on reserve stretch their dollars and keep their pantries full, she has a heart for community and sustainable living. Once broken down on the side of the road in a snow storm, now she’s on a journey to a brighter future through higher learning.
Thanks to Alison Tedford Seaweed for authoring this article.
Future Pathways Fireside Chats are a project of TakingITGlobal's Connected North Program.
Funding is generously provided by the RBC Foundation in support of RBC Future Launch, and the Government of Canada's Supports for Student Learning program.