Being the Change: Rebecca Tootoosis Goes Back to Business School
“I knew I wanted to be the change in my family, especially for my son and my nieces and nephews,” Rebecca Tootoosis explains, reflecting on her decision to go back to school. She is a married mom of one from Saddle Lake, Alberta who was born in Edmonton. She lived there until she was 12, when she moved to Prince Albert, Saskatchewan. A year and a half ago, she moved to Saskatoon to go to business school.
She worked in a car dealership for five years, doing accounting, inventory control, marketing and warranty administration. She found she enjoyed the business side of it and decided to pursue her education in that area. After completing a diploma, she decided to pursue a bachelor’s degree. The job security that can come from education was something she valued.
Tootoosis grew up in extreme poverty, with a lot of generational trauma. “Creating a life for myself was really important to me. I wanted to also do that to be a role model for those in my family and hopefully create a ripple effect from those choices that I made. Hopefully, it passes down from generation to generation,” she says, thinking about the success she wants her Indigenous family to have.
Her advice for Indigenous youth considering leaving home to pursue their education is hopeful. “Every choice you make in your life is for a reason, I am a firm believer and you are where you meant to be. In the end, it's all worth it. I know it sounds super cliche, but just never give up. Especially never give up on yourself, your dreams, your goals, shoot for the stars. Life is always forever changing; there's going to be lots of challenges in your way,” she shares.
“I think during those challenges, you should really be most gentle on yourself in those moments because we can be our worst critics or hardest critics… and just know that things take time. You are on the path you're meant to be on and just be patient,” she continues.
When asked what she would say to her younger self, she says, “there's so much I'd love to say to her, right. Starting with, again, being patient with yourself…I always used to compare myself, or my life, to other people, my friends, my peers, and where they are now… I would just tell her to just be patient, and that everything will be okay. Be gentle, and love yourself through all the really challenging times.”
Tootoosis has been through a lifelong struggle with anxiety, which became more severe until she sought counselling and therapy after the death of her father. “It just really helps me and gives me an outlet, a positive, healthy outlet to really process and think about things that are going on in my life,” she elaborates. Other than anxiety, she faced financial adversity being a student and a parent.
The biggest challenge she had was believing in herself, and learning how to shut out all the negativity inside and out. Many people discouraged her and at times she internalized their criticisms. She questioned her intelligence, her worth, and whether she deserved what she had. “I just have to drown out all the outside noise and really just sit with my thoughts and just think like, ‘You are worthy enough. You are important. You can do these things. You are smart. You are intelligent,’” she remembers. Therapy is something that helped her believe in herself, and when she believed in herself, she wanted to learn more about herself.
After growing up in a family that was very religious, without much exposure to culture, she decided to explore her Indigenous identity. She’s found it to be healing and it helps her maintain her mental health. Spending time with non-judgemental friends, in the safe spaces she’s created with them, free from competition, also helps. Having a healthy, positive friend group who listen and give advice is something she recommends. Taking care of herself with pedicures, chiropractic visits and massages helps her stay feeling well and reduce the tension she’s had since the pandemic started.
When she needs inspiration, she looks to her friends. “They're all strong, smart, independent, go-getter Indigenous women. I really look up to them,” she smiles. Her son inspires her too. “He's very courageous. He's brave. I was never that brave. One day, I aspire to be that brave,” she marvels about her shy, kind child.
Inspired by her family, she also wanted to be the change in her family. For Rebecca Tootoosis, that included going back to school for her business degree. With the help of therapy, supportive friends and time spent learning about her culture, it’s all added up to a way of life she’s proud to model for her son. Working through anxiety, financial challenges and self-doubt, she’s found a way to make the changes she hopes will cause a ripple effect for generations.
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.