Rebecca Sangwais

Beauty and Brains: Rebecca Sangwais’ Career in Higher Education And Makeup Artistry

“I want to share my story and I want to be a motivator for our youth for future generations to come,” says Rebecca Sangwais. Her ceremonial name is Morningstar and she is Cree and Saulteaux from Southern Saskatchewan in the Ochapowace First Nation. She grew up on the Sakimay First Nation and from the reserve, she moved to Regina where she lived for ten years before moving to Vancouver. For the past seven to eight years she has been working in postsecondary doing work she finds rewarding. She loves supporting students and giving back.

"I want to share my story and I want to be a motivator for our youth for future generations to come."

Growing up, her parents pushed her academically, promising to take her to dance powwow if she excelled and got on the honour roll. Sangwais entered a writing competition with the Aboriginal Financial Officers Association and won a trip to their conference in Montreal. She networked and was mentored and decided to go to business school. She completed her business degree at the First Nations University of Canada then worked at the University of Regina as a research assistant and then as an Indigenous recruiter. For a couple years she left to become a makeup artist but otherwise she has been in the university system. 

The majority of her career has been in undergraduate recruitment. She’s worked in the Indigenous student centre and recently moved over to the Indigenous business leadership Executive MBA program where she could support graduate students. Hearing everyone’s stories and being part of a community, she loves her job where she gets to look at the process of decolonizing education. Soon, she will attend the Aboriginal Financial Officers Association conference once more. 

Taking a break to study makeup nurtured her artistic side. She always loved doing makeup herself and with friends. She received a global makeup diploma from Blanche McDonald’s and worked at MAC Cosmetics for a couple years. She still does bridal makeup sometimes, celebrating love and being part of their big day. She loves helping people transform, find confidence and beauty and hearing their stories. 

She used to be so shy and reserved and now she connects with people daily, building relationships and networking. What helped her come out of her shell was First Nations University of Canada. Learning among other Indigenous learners was a game changer. “It was somewhere where we could be ourselves. We didn't have to fight to make space. We didn't have to fight to be seen or heard,” she recalls. With a beautiful space, elders, Indigenous professors, ceremony and tools to empower her, she was transformed. “That just really built me and who I am,” Sangwais reflects. 

Beyond a degree, she gained a community and network. The graduate program she supports now feels a lot like her undergraduate community-building experience at a different level. “It was meant to be! I feel like I'm truly where I'm supposed to be!” she exclaims. 

Illustration by Shaikara David

It wasn’t all smooth sailing, though. The first to attend university in her family, she wasn’t aware of the available supports. She failed some of her classes, juggling city life, dating, and a heavy course load that wasn’t aligned with her strengths. On academic probation, she was moved out of business and into arts for a year. A tutor helped her get back on track. She almost lost her band funding but she was able to reach her goals. 

Transitioning to the city was tough and she shares her story to encourage others. “If I can do it, you can do it,” she relays. In hearing about those roadblocks and times of struggle, others don’t feel as bad when they are having a hard time. Her advice to youth thinking about leaving their home community is to find connection wherever they end up, whether through a Friendship Centre or an Indigenous Student Centre. “There's people there with a foundation laid out, and they're just waiting to welcome you with open arms. There is a ton of support out there. Just find your community. You'll find your purpose and you'll feel connected and a lot more grounded,” she suggests.

Moving to Regina, Sangwais was excited for a video store and a movie theatre and it took time for her to get past her shyness. She suggests attending orientation day to connect with other people who might also be feeling shy and disconnected. “That's where you're gonna find your community,” she explains.

If she could give a message to her younger self it would be to lean into her generational wisdom and release her self-doubt. “If I could talk to my younger self it would just be to stop with the doubt and stop saying, ‘I'm not good enough. I shouldn't be here. I'm not smart enough.’ I think that would really help and just to hug and hold myself and give myself the confidence that I needed to blossom… Be confident, and stop doubting yourself,” she muses. 

"Life goes up and down, but I always try to go to the gym."

To keep her mental health in check, Sangwais learned to dance powwow and participate in ceremonies like sweats. She’s taken a holistic approach to learning, and spends time with friends to build community that’s connected to her culture. She participates in counselling, gets massages, exercises, does physiotherapy and connects with others over shared experiences rather than self-isolating. 

When it comes to inspiration, Sangwais looks to mentorship opportunities and to the students in her program and their leadership skills and bravery. When she needs inspiration for the gym she thinks about wanting to be independent and active later in life and how she wants to keep making memories with her family. She loves being healthy and holistic and that keeps her going. 

To inspire Indigenous youth, Sangwais wants to tell them, “Just keep going… The best is yet to come, I promise you. It's just a bad day. We're gonna get through it. There's so many people. Teach out. There's people that support and love you. Create some goals. There's a whole world out there that's waiting for you to go out there and experience. Travel.”

She wants to share her story and be a motivator for youth for future generations to come and that’s why Rebecca Sangwais is making a difference in post-secondary. Sharing her experiences, the good, the bad and everything in between, she invites people into her human experience and creates space for empathy and understanding. Helping people transform through makeup and education, she’s guiding with her expertise and shining a light on who they can be.

Thanks to Alison Tedford Seaweed for authoring this article.

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Key Parts

  • Career
  • Identity
    First Nations
  • Province/Territory
  • Date
    May 1, 2024
  • Post Secondary Institutions
    No PSI found.
  • Discussion Guide
    create to learn discuss

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