Meet Allysha Wassegijig, Aboriginal Initiatives Coordinator
By: Zoe Dhillon, Orillia Bureau Chief
The Argus: As the Aboriginal Initiatives Coordinator, what does your job entail?
Allysha Wassegijig: My job entails quite a few different things but my first priority is to support students on campus, specifically Indigenous students. We have approximately 61 self-identified Indigenous students on our campus right now and I enjoy being able to work with them. I also work very closely with the rest of the Orillia Student Affairs team with a cultural perspective and a holistic approach to support that is based off of my Indigenous worldview to help with anything that students need. I have worked here for over two years now and it has been great.
A: What is the most rewarding element of your job?
AW: I think that the most rewarding part of my job would be when someone has an experience or they learn something about themselves that they wouldn’t have otherwise had access to. During university, people are at the transition period in their lives and they’re going towards a new direction in life or taking a next step forward. During that time in people’s lives, you end up having to learn a bit about yourself along the way, and specifically for Indigenous students, there’s a lot of healing that also happens as part of that process. I find it very rewarding to be a part of that.
A: What is challenging about your job currently?
AW: The challenging part about my job, right now, is that often I am stretched into many different areas and, unfortunately, I have to make many hard choices as to where my priorities are going to be. I have to maintain a good balance between providing the frontline support for students one-on-one, in small groups, and at events, as well as sometimes providing supports for faculty and staff. But I also have quite a lot of work to do behind the scenes that some people don’t necessarily see, and that also provides a lot of positive momentum for the university.
A: What is your favourite part about working at this campus?
AW: I’m sure the rest of the Student Affairs team has really similar answers, but I love working with a small team on a small campus. There is a real sense of community and there are a lot of awesome opportunities. There’s so many opportunities to try new things, develop your own self, and gain additional experiences that you may not otherwise have at a larger institution. This is a really great place to work and to feel like you can directly make an impact on your community.
A: Why did you choose to work in Orillia? What drew you in to our community?
AW: I specifically chose to work in Orillia because my sister was moving down here and, as a single mom, she’s one of my main supports. I love being really close to family and to the Indigenous community in Rama First Nation. This is my home.
A: How can Indigenous and non-Indigenous students get involved in Indigenous issues on campus?
AW: Any member of the Lakehead University Orillia community can be involved in our work by being present. Everyone is always welcome to come to all of our events, gatherings, workshops, and teachings. One of the greatest examples that I’ve seen is the campus teepee. It’s been amazing to see the original founding members of the Turtle Island Student Circle advocate for creating an Indigenous space on campus. Students, faculty, staff, and members of the Rama First Nation community have come together to help put that up. It’s amazing and beautiful to see how everyone has come together. That makes me so proud.
A: As Lakehead students move forward after graduating, how can non-Indigenous alumni maintain cultural awareness, stay involved with the Indigenous community, and participate as allies?
AW: First of all, if alumni are staying in the area, I would highly recommend staying in touch with me because that would be a great opportunity to continue to grow as an individual while giving back to your local community. Secondly, no matter where you go, what area you’re working in, what country you’re in, I would say to always continue reading. I would really recommend reading All my Relations: Finding my Path Forward by Tanya Talaga, especially for students in the Social Work program. It’s a hard read – you do have to take it in small chunks – but it talks about the crisis in Canada with Indigenous suicide. It’s a very powerful book that provides a lot of insight and allows you to experience, second-hand, that loss. As an ally, it would be understandably almost impossible to have first-hand experience with some of the losses and traumas that happen predominantly in the Indigenous community, but reading books like that is a great way to hear those stories and learn from those experiences.