“Know that you belong in those spaces that you are in… and you deserve to be there.” These powerful words come from Meguan Oksasikewiyinm, a Cree and Nakota woman who spent the majority of her childhood in Prince Albert, before moving down south at the age of sixteen. Originally from White Bear First Nation, Oksasikewiyinm is married, has a ten-year-old son and dances powwow when she’s not working as an educator with the Saskatoon Public School Division.
Oksasikewiyinm splits her teaching time between grades seven and eight and kindergarten through grade two. With her older students, she teaches language arts, art, culture, career, and practical Applied Arts. Her younger students learn the Cree language, culture and art. She loves working with the oldest and youngest kids in the school. She also has a summer job working with mothers and their children.
Before teaching, she took a youth care program at Sask Polytech and went on to teach art in group homes, building on her experience working in summer and day camps.
As a child and teen, she didn’t enjoy school in an urban setting, feeling like she didn’t belong until her senior year in school on reserve in her home community. That’s where she thrived, with other Indigenous kids and having Indigenous teachers for the first time. It inspired her to further her education and become a teacher, too.
After attending Sask Polytech of youth care, Oksasikewiyinm took a break and had her son. She went to the University of Saskatchewan when her son was a toddler and got her Bachelor of Education through the Indian Teacher Education Program. “Honestly, that was probably the best choice I ever made for my education journey. It was so amazing,” she beams. She found friendship and healing and learned a lot about herself. She’s back at school there again now, taking the Cree language certificate program.
Growing up, Oksasikewiyinm was raised in a home full of Indigenous teachings and culture, with the benefit of education from the matriarchs of her family. She picked medicines on the land and learned about motherhood, parenting, ceremonies and their language. Oksasikewiyinm grew up surrounded by a lot of women, from her mother and aunties. It was culturally rich but had its own challenges.
Her advice for young Indigenous students thinking about leaving their community to pursue their education is to find community. She was scared and didn’t know anyone at her university orientation, feeling like she didn’t belong and overwhelmed with self-doubt. Oksasikewiyinm ended up making lasting friends right away, studying with them in the evenings and drawing on the group dynamic to get things done and excel. The Indigenous Student Center at the University was also helpful, providing meals and opportunities to connect. The professors made her feel welcome, too.
Her other advice for youth moving away for school is about continuing to practice spirituality, whether through smudging or prayer. She found doing so helped alleviate the stress of university workload and the impacts on her mental health. It also helped her stay connected to herself as she was going through a challenging time.
As a child, Oksasikewiyinm faced challenging times as well, dealing with the intergenerational impacts of colonization and being raised in a single-parent household as one of six kids. “I grew up in a home where there was a lot of trauma, a lot of addiction, poverty, and abuse,” she remembers. While times were tough, she also sees the blessings in her struggle and the opportunity to witness her family overcoming challenges and her mom going to school later in life.
If she could give advice to her younger self it would be, “It's okay to not have your whole life figured out right now. That there's lots of time to figure things out. You have lots of time to get your life in order and to figure out what you want to do with your life. Don’t compare yourself to other people as well. We're all here on our own journey and we’re all different, so this journey is going to look really different for everybody. That's something I'm still telling myself right now.”
She would also challenge the assumptions she had around what life should look like. “I think in this Western world we live in, it's always telling us we have to have our degree by this age, it should take us this many years and we should get married and then have kids and there's all these rules that are set out against us. I just think that our journeys are what our journey is. I did it a little bit backwards and that's okay. It was a little bit harder, not gonna lie, but it's okay. We're good,” she concludes.
What inspires Oksasikewiyinm to keep going is her family and wanting to live a healthy and sober lifestyle for her young relatives. “I want to show them then that they can be healthy too,” she muses, thinking about how she wants to set an example for her son in a decolonial way so he can implement the traditional parenting practices in his own life when he grows up. The youth she works with and her students inspire her too. “I really want them to see how beautiful and how amazing and how talented our people are,” she grins.
To take care of herself, she goes to therapy, travels, attends ceremonies and powwows, works out, runs, reads and goes to the gym. She takes breaks from social media and her phone. Oksasikewiyinm tries to be gentle with herself, getting adequate rest and listening to her body.
The lesson that she learned in becoming who she is, about knowing that you belong in the spaces you are in and you deserve to be there is one Meguan Oksasikewiyinm passes on to the students in her care and the children in her life. This Cree and Nakota woman found an educational home in her home community alongside Indigenous teachers who inspired her towards a career as an educator. Now, she gets to be the teacher she needed all along for a new generation of Indigenous students, sharing language, culture and cultural pride.
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.