Seeing The World and Finding Herself: Migwin Orzechowska's Overseas Journey of Self-Discovery
“I think adaptability and quick thinking has really brought me a long way,” Migwin Orzechowska reflected. Being brought a long way is both metaphorical in her journey for cultural connection and professional career but also geographical. She grew up in a small town and found opportunities to see the world.
An Oji-Cree and Polish woman from Sioux Lookout, Ontario, on the traditional lands of Lac Seul First Nation in Treaty 3 territory, Orzechowska is a member of Bearskin Lake First Nation. An avid crafter, beadworker, jewelry maker and freelance videographer, she keeps herself busy these days.
Homeschooled by her mother until high school, she spent time outdoors in nature learning about plant medicine, harvesting medicines and learning to cook in the family catering business. The business raised money so they could travel to her mother’s home country of Poland for four months, learning history, language and more.
After her trip to Poland, she went to high school, worked during the summer and went on another European adventure. Travel is something she’s a strong advocate for. “The learning opportunity is incredible. You're learning about different cultures. You're learning about different languages and different foods and different ways of life. Also you're just meeting so many wonderful people and I felt that really helped me grow as well to be meeting so many people around the world,” she explained.
For five months she did volunteer programs using platforms like Workaway, worked in bed and breakfasts, hostels, and a horse rescue farm. Orzechowska saw England, Poland, Spain and other points in between. She enjoyed the cultures, foods and languages.
Orzechowska remembered the bravery she drew on as she adventured, “When I was 18, I didn't have Google maps on my phone and I couldn't figure out where I was going. There were definitely times when I took the wrong bus all the way to the end of the line, only to realize I was going in the complete wrong direction.”
It's about trusting the path, like trusting everything that's happening in the moment and every, every opportunity is a learning experience too.
“Learning experiences like that helped me grow and adapt to different situations and being able to problem solve, being thrown into it headfirst and same thing with firefighting too. It was so new to me and I was definitely nervous going into it, but I jumped into it and realized that I'm able to learn along the way,” she continued.
When I was abroad, I realized all the things that I did love about my community and that I did appreciate. When I came back, I had a whole different appreciation for where I live.
While traveling, she decided to go to film school in Thunder Bay. Journaling and blogging her travels, she fell in love with storytelling. Her mom recommended the program and she decided to go for it. The summer before film school she worked as a fire ranger, enjoying a whole season outdoors.
Film school was hard but fulfilling. “It was a two year program, very intensive, very hands-on, but that's, I think one of the amazing things about the film program at Thunder Bay, is that they teach you all the practical skills. They do some theory as well, but the focus is sending their students out into the world afterwards knowing how to do every aspect of filmmaking or at least the basics of it. I loved the program, met some wonderful people there. I feel like it really gave me a good base of knowledge to be where I am today,” she recalled.
She remembered how in high school she dreaded having an unfulfilling office job and she wasn’t sure what she wanted to be. Her advice for her younger self would be, “know that you are able to create the life that you want. You have to work hard, focus, be gracious, be kind and open to new opportunities, but it will come. You will be able to create a life that you enjoy and do work that you love.”
Orzechowska moved to Vancouver to pursue her film industry dreams, working as a production assistant and background actor but found herself miserable. She got a call that someone was looking for a videographer back home and she returned. She wanted to make a difference, and her work as a videographer working on Indigenous history, language and culture projects lets her do just that, something she loves.
When the pandemic hit, Orzechowska lost her mom and went through a difficult time. While she was struggling, she found healing and comfort in her creative practices. She reclaimed Indigenous culture and traditions to help rediscover who she was and spent a lot of time outdoors and near water. She found a therapist, talked out her problems, and became closer with her dad.
“Scary to think about but 100% worth it” is how she described her adventures and her career as a videographer holds new journeys for her to embark on. Growing up in a small town, she found ways to see the world and broaden hers as well. Migwin Orzechowska has traveled far in her life, and now she’s found new ways to come home to herself as an Indigenous person and a storyteller.
Thanks to Alison Tedford 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.