From Behind the Lens to the Front of the Class: Photographer Shayla Snowshoe Develops into an Educator
“At this point, there's nothing that is going to stop me from finishing. I'm 100% determined, and if anything, all of those setbacks, all of those struggles, and those tears, those heartbreaks, everything, that's what made me stronger. That's what's motivating me to just keep going to just finish, knowing that if I made it through that, I can make it through anything,” says Shayla Snowshoe, who is from Fort McPherson in the Northwest Territories. A mother of two daughters and photography business owner, Snowshoe attends the University of Alberta. Her business is called Snowshoe Studios and the journey to opening it started when she was young.
At the age of 16, Snowshoe moved to Vancouver, BC with her mother who was attending UBC. She took a film photography class in high school there, where the photography spark inside her went off like a flash. After graduation, she took the digital photography diploma at the Center for Arts and Technology in Kelowna and opened her business at 20 years old.
While she’s based in Fort McPherson, she’s done work all over the Yukon, the Northwest Territories and Alberta, photographing weddings, cultural events and culture camps. She spent ten days on the land learning how to tie moose hide while photographing the event. “I really like how I have evolved more to be taking photos of our culture and preserving those types of memories, especially with the elders, and the youth at those kinds of events,” she smiles.
As far as her academic studies go, she’s in her fifth year of a joint program to receive a Bachelor's in Native studies and a Bachelor's in Education. She would like to return to her home community as an educator, to bring this knowledge and experience back to the youth, to give back to her community, and to help motivate others to do the same. Snowshoe wants to be a positive role model and show what’s possible for small-town kids who want to go to university and accomplish big things.
Her advice for students that are considering leaving their home communities is encouraging. “Just do it. There's a million reasons why we shouldn't and we wouldn't. We're scared, we're lonely, we're afraid to leave our family, our culture, the comfort of our hometowns where we grew up, but honestly, you just gotta rip the band-aid off and just do it,” she urges.
She thinks it’s worth it, but she doesn’t suggest it will be easy, sharing, “Sometimes it's really, really hard. It's an everyday struggle to be away from my community, my family, to be essentially alone in the city with my two daughters for the last five years.” Snowshoe’s brother coming to town has made a difference but she has to motivate herself daily to overcome setbacks and finish her degree. She believes she can because of where she comes from.
“To do this, you have to have a strong mindset. Our ancestors lived out in the bush, in minus 6-degree weather, the coldest temperatures. They survived the craziest things and we come from strong people, all of us. All Indigenous people, we have this power in us, and we can do it. If you're thinking about it, just do it. You can do it. You have the power within you,” she concludes.
Snowshoe knows it’s hard, having put her blood, sweat and tears into her degree, as she describes it, studying as a pregnant and breastfeeding single mom during a pandemic, falling ill with COVID-19 while pregnant, and giving birth on Christmas day. She intended to take a semester off but pressed onwards.
Looking back at her younger self, she sees how she used to lack confidence. “I didn't know that I had this strength within me and what I was capable of, and I wish I knew that when I was younger, because I would have known my worth, and I would have avoided a lot of situations where I got hurt. But at the same time, if those things didn't happen, I wouldn't be who I am now,” she reflects.
To balance her mental health and well-being, Snowshoe focuses on self-care and self-love, especially during difficult moments, when she’s sleep deprived and needs to take a step back and do something to make herself feel better. That might look like cleaning her space or herself up, lifting her energy, and she knows she needs to stay hydrated and take her vitamins. She likes to go walking and knows that even small things can help bring back the balance she needs to achieve her goals.
When she needs inspiration, she looks to her family and her mother who is a school principal in her hometown. Her mother spent her whole life working towards becoming a teacher and she’s the first in her family to get a post secondary degree. She even got her master’s degree and Snowshoe remembers watching her mom defy the odds stacked against her and moving her four children to Vancouver, juggling parental responsibilities and academics to get the job of her dreams.
As a mother now herself, she’s inspired by her daughters who she knows are watching her and she knows she needs to set a good example. Snowshoe sees in them the same strength she possesses, and believes they can do anything they set their minds to.
When she was growing up, she learned from the language teacher in her home community, someone who also inspires her. She was a mother of eight who went back to school to get certified as a language teacher and that’s something Snowshoe really admires.
“I have so many strong women in front of me and so many strong little ones coming behind me, too, that I have to show them.”
She hopes in sharing her stories she will be able to inspire youth. She strongly believes that nothing will stop her from finishing her degree, because she’s 100% determined. The setbacks, struggles, tears, heartbreaks, and everything made her stronger, motivating her to finish strong, knowing that if she made it through that, she can make it through anything. She hopes others will see that they can, too.
From behind the lens to the front of the class, photographer Shayla Snowshoe is developing into an educator. She’s inspired to keep going on a journey that’s been far from picture-perfect, knowing it will be like fine art in the end.
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.