Home Sweet Home: Sienna Waskewitch Comes Home To Love of Self and Community Care
Home holds a special place in Sienna Waskewitch’s heart. “I saw so much beauty in where I came from that it just seems silly to hate myself for one more second…Over time the question of whether I should love myself just kind of flew out the window. I just learned more about myself instead,” she remembers.
Waskewitch comes from Treaty six territory, from Onion Lake and Little Pine Houses and was born and raised by a single mom in Saskatoon. They lived on the east side of Saskatoon, a prosperous neighbourhood, where both mother and daughter experienced racism and discrimination based on their socio economic status, even though they grew up there in different eras.
The racism her mother experienced was more overt, but Waskewitch had the experience of parents of kids in her class being told not to play with her. Those experiences of not belonging were shared between mother and daughter and they even shared a similar experience around how they coped with feeling alone in their Indigeneity.
“We were in kindergarten and first dealing with identity issues and skin color issues, being the only brown one in a class. We went to the bathroom at the end of the day…scrubbing our skin, hoping to make it a couple shades whiter.” Her mother broke down realizing they had been through the same and how they both felt like it was something to hide.
Thinking of her mother, Waskewitch reflects, ”I grew a lot of inspiration watching [my mother] and her strengths and some of her weaknesses. She was always so open to share with me. I think vulnerability is a huge strength so I took a lot from her.” Her mother took her home to her community a lot as a child so she could spend time learning from her family and elders.
“When I would go back home I felt this pride that I've never felt anywhere else. And it's so hard to explain. But it's like this beautiful butterfly euphoria over my chest and it makes me feel so at home.”
It was there that she learned how to appreciate her identity and work through the feelings of not belonging that came out in her purchases of concealer that was too light in an attempt to lighten her skin. Her mom put her into community events, took her to powwows and she went to ceremony with her kokum.
“Going back home, learning my culture, who I am, who are these other people in my life that have the same colour of skin as me really helped me love and embrace my skin.”
Waskewitch got her start in community work when her mom put her into a program called Collective Voice that involved social work. She was reluctant to go at first but her mom insisted and she fell in love with the field. She continued doing programs, including digital storytelling and photo resiliency projects, learning to see the world from other perspectives.
Her advice to youth interested in getting involved with community initiatives is to go to their youth centre and check out their programming. It’s where she built many relationships and learned cultural skills. For herself and things she wants to explore, she would like to work with kids and go into education, either classroom or community and is learning skills for the film industry in hopes of reaching more people.
A love of kids drives her interest in education. “I have such a great love for kids and I think they’re such a wonder. I think they're like little elders, they have so much to teach us. They’re still so close to where they came where we all come from that they hold a lot of wisdom inside of them and we have a lot to learn from them,” she marvels.
Waskewitch is now with the Storycatchers Project, experiencing her culture, the land around her and learning more about social psychology. She has also been working with the Reconciliation Saskatoon since she first started there as a youth champion. It’s a website that helps people on their reconciliation journey and through that work she has had the opportunity to provide training to a range of people in her hometown. Waskewitch additionally works at a bookstore with teachers and is getting to learn more about education and what classroom life is like, peering from the sidelines with wonder.
All of that activity can be overwhelming sometimes, and she grounds herself by going home. What that looks like isn’t necessarily what you might expect. “That doesn't always mean traveling six hours to the community that you're from. Sometimes that means going for a walk in your old neighborhood or talking to someone that you grew up with. There are a lot of ways to remind yourself what home feels like. Bring yourself back home, humble yourself a little bit, remember where you came from. Remember all the things that you have also achieved since you were a kid. Recognizing the growth inside of you, because you can always forget that easily. It's good to take a breath and just remember,” she explains.
In coming home to herself, Sienna Waskewitch learned more about who she is and what she has to offer the world. Working in community, she's learning more about others and ways she can help make a difference. Drawing strength from the traditions of the past and the wisdom of her ancestors, she’s preparing to lead children on their own paths of discovery, because like home and the other people who come from it, kids hold a special place in her heart, too.
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.