Jasmyn Albert is an Indigenous educator and artist from Saskatchewan. She is from Chitek Lake and grew up and lives in Saskatoon, where she works as a teacher.
Jasmyn attended school in Saskatoon, and entered the Indian Teacher Education Program (ITEP) in 2012. “I always wanted to be a teacher since I was really little. My kookum worked in the same division as I did, but more as a cultural representative. When I was in high school, I had some really awesome teachers when I was at Oskāyak (High School). They encouraged me to go this path. They were very supportive and they were encouraging and no matter what I was going through, they were always there and I wanted to be that for other youth. So that’s why I chose to be an educator.”
Although her formal education was important, Jasmyn also acknowledges a lifetime of teaching from peers, role models, and especially Elders: “I feel like I’ve done a lot of other learning throughout my life. I’ve learned a lot from other youth. I worked in a group home for a while. I did a lot of learning there, and as well as my cultural learning, I learned through my kookum and through other Elders. So I’ve spent many, many, many hours hearing stories and teachings and sometimes lectures from my kookum and from other Elders that I had the amazing opportunity to build relationships with. I think that most of my learning and why I am who I am today, is because of the Elders that I had in my life. My kookum was able to offer those teachings that are almost lost today, so that’s my education.”
Jasmyn had to take on huge responsibilities from a young age. Her mom struggled with addiction, and at times both her parents weren’t around. So she had to take on the job of caring for her three younger siblings from her early teens, while still completing her own high school education. And while it was hard at times, and Jasmyn sometimes felt she was missing out on a “normal” teenage life, she knows that it was crucial to her journey, and doesn’t regret it: “I’m really thankful for that journey because I don’t think I would be who I am. I wouldn’t have made the choices I made in my life and met the people that I met because of what had happened to me… I can relate now to my youth differently because a lot of the students I teach, they come from homes with addiction. They come from that broken household. And so I can relate to them.”
When the conversation turns to the challenges of leaving home, Jasmyn has this to say: “I’ve always been here and I’m scared to leave, but I think that anything worth anything in life is going to be hard. It’s going to be challenging at different times, and your whole life changes. That whole world of post-secondary and adulthood is hard, and it’s supposed to be hard. It helps you become who you are and who you’re going to be. At the time you might think that this is the scariest thing that I’m ever going to go through, trying to leave. But I think if it’s something that you feel in your heart is worth it, and if it scares you a little bit, then that’s good. It should scare you a little bit.”
While new experiences and challenges have value, scary as they might be, Jasmyn still emphasizes her strong ties to her home, her community, and her family. “That’s one of the reasons why I haven’t left Saskatoon, because this is my home. This is where my kookum lives and where my gramps lives. And so I’m scared to leave them right now. We always got to remember who raised us and who loves us and we’ve got to remember to go back. So I think to leave home for however long to pursue whatever dreams you have, I would say it’s okay to leave and it’s good. Pursue those dreams and take the challenges and take every obstacle and learn from it. But I would encourage anybody to go back as often as you can, because those people that took care of us aren’t always going to be there. They aren’t always going to be a couple blocks away. They aren’t always going to be a phone call away. Really remember who your family is if you’re fortunate enough to have that. That for me is really important.”
In addition to working as an educator, Jasmyn is an artist, making traditional skirts and doing beadwork — traditional skills she also picked up from a young age. “I’ve been beading since I was very young. I started sewing with a needle and thread when I was two years old. There’s pictures of me sitting at my kookum’s kitchen table with beads in front of me and a needle and thread and I would just thread the beads and I learned how to do that.”
She also learned how art reflects life, how the energy she puts into her work reflects her emotions: “Recently my products have been very bright, very colorful. Because I’m feeling good, I’m feeling happy, I’m being positive. I’m trying to think positively, I’m still trying to maintain that positive mindset because I don’t want to be creating things that aren’t going to be good. I guess one of the really big teachings my kookum always taught me was, how you’re feeling and how you think goes into whatever you make. So you don’t want to be giving people negativity.”
As an Indigenous educator Jasmyn learned these values of traditional teachings and ways of teaching early in life — even if she sometimes wishes she had paid a little more attention. “When I was younger I missed out on a lot of the fun youth things that teenagers do or that we think is fun because I was staying home with my kookum. I was in the bush cutting teepee poles or spending all summer at the lake and not doing fun stuff at the lake. I was picking berries and medicines and all that stuff.
“And so I would soak this time up and listen to everything that she’s saying. Because the way I learned my culture and the way I learned the teachings that I have, there was never a time where my kookum would say, ‘All right, sit down and get a pen and paper. I’m going to tell you about this,’ and she would never prompt me and say, ‘Okay listen, because I’m going to give you a teaching right now.’ It would be, we’re driving to the berry patch and all of a sudden she’d bring up some old story about when she was younger. Or we’d be cutting teepee poles down and she’d be telling me which side the moss grows on and how you can tell north and south and I don’t even remember that.”
“So I wish I could go back and be like, ‘Yo, listen. Kookum’s telling you important stuff. Get off your phone. You don’t need to worry about that stuff right now. Listen, be present. Be present in this moment.’”
Nonetheless, these lessons have informed Jasmyn’s own work with youth. “I feel like nowadays it’s a lot more encouraged to feel your feelings, but when we were younger, it was like, you need to be on, you need to be happy, you need to be smiling. You’re young, this is the best time of your life. That’s the attitude that we were shown when we were teenagers. I wish I could go back and say, ‘Enjoy life. You don’t have to be on this five year journey. It can take as long as you want it to take. And that’s okay. If you want to be in university for eight years, that’s okay. You don’t need to take eight classes at a time, be patient, get some rest, get some sleep.’”
“You’re learning every day no matter what you’re doing.”
Special thanks to Keith Collier for authoring this blog post.
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.