Alexander Tawpisim is pursuing his Master of Education in Educational Administration (Indigenous Education Leadership Cohort) in the USask College of Education.
Alexander Tawpisim is pursuing his Master of Education in Educational Administration (Indigenous Education Leadership Cohort) in the USask College of Education. (Photo: Nicole Denbow)

USask education student shares plans to improve Indigenous education administration

“Your education is your ceremony,” says College of Education graduate student Alexander Tawpisim.

By Elisabeth Bauman

Alexander Tawpisim (He/Him) is a member of the Muskeg Lake Cree Nation located north of Saskatoon. He received his University of Saskatchewan (USask) undergraduate degree from the College of Education in 2011. He has gone on to a career in teaching and has recently moved into school administration in his home community.

Tawpisim is a proud husband and father of two children. He is pursuing his Master of Education in Educational Administration (Indigenous Education Leadership Cohort) in the College of Education.

Tawpisim received an award for academic excellence at this year’s Indigenous Student Achievement Awards (ISAA), which took place on March 6. Indigenous students from across the university were honoured at a ceremony to recognize their academic excellence, leadership, research endeavours, or community engagement. The ISAA is part of Indigenous Achievement Week (IAW) which celebrates the successes and contributions of Métis, First Nations and Inuit students, staff and faculty.

We asked Tawpisim a few questions about his time at USask and what motivates him.

Why did you choose the College of Education?

I made the decision to enter the college of education so I could make a difference in education to First Nations students. I wanted to be a bridge to their success. Indian Teacher Education Program (ITEP) provided me with the tools I needed to become successful in life. I wanted to be there and cheer on Indigenous students as I watch them become successful.

Is there someone in your life who inspired you to get where you are today? 

There is no one particular person who inspired me to be where I am. I had people in my life who believed in me when I needed it. It wasn’t always the same person and it wasn’t always at the same time. Creator put the people in my path when he knew I needed them.

What are your goals for the future? 

Well, I am in a pretty busy season so it’s hard to see the other side! I want to finish this IELC master’s program. From there I want to help education systems in First Nations communities. I also want to help improve traditional educational systems in urban centres. I would like to be a part of designing new education buildings and systems. I desire to work with communities and leaders in helping them implement their vision of education in their communities.

If you were to give a first-year undergraduate student advice about attending post-secondary school, what would you tell them?

Go to class and ask questions. Make connections to your own lived experience. See how colonization has shaped your life and the communities we live in. Your story is powerful and needs to be shared to encourage others. Your education will open doors for others. Your education is your ceremony. You will get what you need if you trust the process.

You are receiving the award for academic achievement; What does success in academics mean to you? What are you most proud of academically?

Elders teach that once you share something it is no longer yours. It is for everyone to grow. I am thankful for the many academics who have come before me and shared what they have learned. For me success in academics is taking the gifts others have shared and using them to come to your own realizations. It is about elevating consciousness for your people and your communities. Always cite those who have helped you in gaining understanding. It is your thank you card to those who have come before you.

It’s hard to determine what I am most proud of academically because that is a moving target. First, it was graduating high school. Then it was finishing my undergrad. Then it was being accepted into the IELC. Now it is this moment. Being honoured for academic achievement at the graduate level is something I could not have dreamed growing up. The next moment is still to come.

How has your family life affected the way you think about the educational needs of Indigenous communities?

My lived experience as an intergenerational survivor of residential schools has equipped me to be attuned to the needs of my own community. My experience in ITEP provided me with an understanding of the impacts of colonization and residential school had on my life. That understanding enabled me to forgive. I now try to help by promoting Trauma Informed Practices in what I do. We incorporate land-based learning in our school operations and focus highly on improving literacy. We need to provide the balance of honouring our traditional ways and equipping our youth with “the cunning of the white man” as our Treaty signers foresaw.

What do you find exciting in the Educational Leadership Cohort, and how is it affecting your life?

The thing I find most exciting about the cohort is the relationships we are building. We continually grow and empower each other by sharing our own experiences and supporting each other. We are learning so much about organization, leadership and governance, administrative roles, community development, and trauma-informed practices that we are actively improving our own communities by being able to apply the theory we learn to practice in our workplaces. This course has helped bridge for me the idea of doing a good job in your career to creating a system that will benefit your communities and people. I am sure it will affect my life in many more great ways in the years to come!

Is there anything else you’d like to share? 

I guess the thing I would like to share with anyone who is still reading is this: Take care of your mental health, set healthy boundaries with toxic loved ones, allow the good in (accept the compliments). You are not who you were in the past. You are the sum of all your decisions, so choose wisely. Bring two solutions for every problem you bring up, otherwise you’re just complaining! I love my son Karter! I love my daughter Keisha! I love my supporting wife, Kristen!

Together, we will work towards Truth and Reconciliation. We invite you to join by supporting Indigenous achievement at USask.