Beads and Bachelors Degrees: Kasandra Migwi’s Path of Education and Earrings
“I've always wanted to go to the University of Alberta; it was always my dream ever since I was 16. I worked at the University of Alberta as a summer student,” Kasandra Migwi recalls. Migwi is from Behchokǫ̀, Northwest Territories, which is Treaty 11 land and she now lives in Treaty 6 territory in Edmonton, Alberta, where she is in her third year of university. Migwi is a mom of three and an entrepreneur as well as a full-time student at her dream school.
She’s working on a combined degree of Native studies and secondary education. Because it’s a dual degree, she has two more years to go. It took her eleven years to get there, but she made it at last. Now she’s living her dream and accomplishing her goals. With three kids under the age of twelve, parenting is busy. She lives next door to their elementary school which makes things a bit easier for everyone. She needs some ease with everything she has to get done.
Migwi loves school but also finds it challenging. From critical thinking, taking courses she’s unfamiliar with, and finding the determination and motivation to get it done on top of being a parent and an entrepreneur to make it in the city. “But then I think about my end goal. I'm going to get my degree. I'm going to go back home and teach. That's what's constantly driving me,” she dreams aloud. She hopes to teach the history of her field of study in a high school environment.
When she was at the university for the first time as a teenager she attended through the women in the engineering program. She worked there for six weeks and loved it. “I found it very life-changing because it got me out of my community during the summer,” she recalls.
The other choice she had at the time was a tundra science camp for two to three weeks, and Migwi thinks she made the right choice, even though she was one of only two Northern students and she didn’t have any family nearby. The student residence on campus is a place where she found community and connection with the dozen or so students staying there with her. They remain friends and keep in touch through social media to this day.
When she found her way back, she learned how to bead from a professor on her first day and now she teaches beading herself. “What I want to do down the road is pass along traditional knowledge,” she explains. She makes beaded earrings, pop sockets, beading kits, teaches beading in her community and online through Northern Compass. In addition to beading wisdom, she shares her language through printed hoodies and sweatshirts that share words she’s reclaiming as she learns.
When she’s not busy with school and business she spends time with her kids. She plays volleyball and also enjoys spending time at home. Her business was born from her desire to stay home full time with her kids while she’s in school. Her kids miss their home community, family and friends while they are away for her to attend school. She’s raised them on the land, and introduced them to traditional foods and their culture so they are strong in their cultural identity.
“What I try to embrace on my own education path is to just work towards a goal or a dream. Even getting out of community, it really does open your eyes,” she advises. Leaving home at 16 to work at the university made her aware of what was possible and that informs the advice she has for students. “I always tell students in my communities ‘just leave home, pay for programs and move away. Just see what else is out there,” she continues.
When it comes to her own kids, she tells them this is a learning experience, and if they don’t like it, that's okay. “Just as long as you know that there's more than home, and that you can always return home,” she counsels. When she comes back home, she wants to combine the settler way of life with her more traditional way of life, bringing her educational knowledge to enhance the education system in her area.
The most important thing she wants people to have is passion. “Just have a dream and really work towards that. It doesn't have to be education. It could be travelling. It could be a trade, just really work towards your dream and you can accomplish anything in life. it's never too late to get educated or it's never too late to work towards your dream or your goal in life,” Migwi encourages. Going back to school at 33 with three kids has taught her that and it’s something she wants others to know.
Bead by bead Kasandra Migwi builds jewelry to sell, and that’s the approach she’s taking to learning, one step at a time to make something beautiful of her life… all with her children by her side. She always wanted to go to the University of Alberta and while it took some time, she got there eventually. Now, she’s on a path of earrings and education.
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.