Unearthing Her Passion: Lillanohna Naytowhowcon Uncovers Her Love of Archaeology
“No matter how much trauma, no matter how many negative things happen in your life, you can keep going and you can succeed,” Lillanohna Naytowhowcon shares. Originally from Sturgeon Lake, Saskatchewan, she now lives in Saskatoon. For a decade she was a childcare worker in Prince Albert before going back to school to become a child psychologist.
She wanted to work with kids in a deeper and more meaningful way but she ended up finding a different path… something more old than young. She ended up taking an archaeology class, something she dreamed of since she was a child and decided to pursue out of longing to know what her ancestors would have been like. She graduated with a BA in Archaeology and now she’s working on her master’s degree.
Naytowhowcon learned in the classroom and also learned a lot growing up in the bush. After high school, she went right to university but a traumatic incident led her to leave for six years. She returned as a mature student, finished her program and jumped into another one. “Once you get momentum happening with your education, you need to keep at it and if you're not feeling it, you have to take a break,” she advises.
The autonomy and independence of adult learning has been an adjustment and she encourages youth to take responsibility for their learning. If they are moving away to go to school, she recommends they look for community resources and make sure all their top needs are met: food, housing, transportation and having a computer for school. Naytowhowcon suggests asking mentors for help and advice about how to meet those needs.
Social connection is another need to fill, and she knows first hand how important it is to create a network of support for when things get hard. Without a plan to meet her needs and without a network, Naytowhowcon made the mistake of going home when the going got tough. It’s not so much the quantity of connections but the quality - spending time with people who are positive influences and care about your future. She feels it’s important to avoid socializing to procrastinate and partying in bars.
Taking a break and not going to university right away can be a good idea to consider if you aren’t ready to buckle down and get to work, she found. Her first time in the big city she didn’t have her housing lined up in advance and she was timid of using transit. She avoided dealing with missed assignments and it ended up not being the best strategy. “Facing your teachers head on is going to help you so much in the long run,” she advises.
The other thing she found she had to take head on was the experience of being tokenized and called on as the only Native person in her class. That can come from a lack of cultural awareness and not understanding how diverse Indigenous communities can be. They don’t realize one person can never speak on behalf of so many communities.
Looking back, she wishes she could tell herself not to be afraid to do what she wanted to do in university and to not be afraid to make friends. Her second time around, she was less anxious and making friends was easier. Naytowhowcon wishes she hadn’t been afraid to reach out, to meet new people, to join a club and take advantage of all the available opportunities.
She hopes today’s youth won’t make the same mistake she did and just go for it and get involved. “There's so many places to be filled, and they need you. They need you on the teams. They need you in the gym, they need you to fill up those spaces, and to be somebody that does the things that they want to do,” she urges.
Perseverance is what she encourages in youth who want to go to school and she hopes they don’t compare their journey to that of their peers. “Your life is gonna take you on a path you're not even aware of. I didn't know I was gonna become an archaeologist. But here I am, I'm doing it and I love it. Keep going forward,” Naytowhowcon encourages.
To manage her mental health, she’s found a counsellor to talk to a few times a month. She tries to stay active and go outside daily. To stay fit she likes to go to the gym or do yoga at home to keep moving and she also loves to make art. From painting, drawing, facepainting and being creative, Naytowhowcon enjoys sharing her work on Twitch or Youtube. She’s made a lot of online gaming friends and she likes to spend time playing with them.
When she needs inspiration, she looks to others in her field who are making headway and space for others and doing work that makes a difference. “When I see other people doing good work, it makes me want to do good work,” she smiles. Whenever Naytowhowcon feels like her work doesn’t matter, she looks at what her colleagues are up to or what others have done in the past that embodies the energy she wants to have. She remembers who she is and where she stands and what she’s doing for others.
Something else that inspires her is knowing she can be a professional as an Indigenous person and show youth living up North that they can do it too. That drive to demonstrate what is possible keeps her going in her graduate studies. After everything she’s been through, Lillanohna Naytowhowcon knows that no matter how much trauma, no matter how many negative things happen in your life, you can keep going and you can succeed. She’s studying the past in hopes of inspiring a better future and she wouldn’t have it any other way.
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.