Cassandra Opikokew BAJ'09 has just graduated from the University's School of Journalism. Opikokew was instrumental in establishing the Indigenous Students' Association and served three terms as the Aboriginal representative on the U of R Students' Union, a position that had been vacant since it was created in the 1990s. As well, she is co-chair on the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations Environmental Youth Council and was active in the Aboriginal caucus of the Canadian Federation of Students. This year, she attended Inclusion Works '09, which brought together 100 of Canada's outstanding Aboriginal post-secondary graduates. Opikokew has been accepted into the law programs in both Saskatoon and Victoria and is considering returning to school in the fall.
You have been a mentor to younger Aboriginal students. Who was your mentor?
My mentors have always been my parents, Brian and Isabelle Opikokew. I've always been close with my family and they are whom I turn to first for guidance, especially my mom. I've been lucky to have some amazing professors too.
What attracted you to study journalism?
I always wanted to pick a profession where I felt I could make a difference in the world and would be engaged in my community. The opportunities to learn new things, meet interesting people and travel were what initially attracted me. Journalists see and learn things that regular people don't always get to-it's exciting.
What do you think is the most valuable characteristic to be a good journalist?
Integrity. Our job is to tell stories about people that affect people. We are supposed to hold people accountable and give the public the accurate information. Integrity is key because you are often working independently and people place a great deal of trust in you-you cannot take that for granted.
What do you think is the key to success for Aboriginal post-secondary students?
Oh, I don't think there is any magic formula for this one because everyone is different and comes from different backgrounds. But what I've found key to my success and my friends' is support. We need more support from our institutions, our communities, the larger public and definitely more financial support at all levels including on-reserve and inner-city schooling right up to post-secondary. We lose a lot of smart, talented Aboriginal children before they even get a chance to access post-secondary education because we don't allocate the resources we should to their early education. That's everyone's responsibility.
What role does First Nations tradition play in your life?
It's a big part of my identity and who I am so I don't know if I can pinpoint it down to a few things. I was raised and learned on my own the traditions and teachings of my Cree culture and find it very natural to incorporate them into my own life. It's a way of living and my desire to give back to my community is tribute to what I've been taught. This is an area of life where I hope to continue to grow.
What is the greatest gift you have ever received?
I think the greatest gift I have ever been given was my childhood and upbringing in northern Saskatchewan. I have been blessed with an amazing mother, father and brother and extended family. I feel very lucky to have been brought up the way I was.
What gives you your strength of character?
Wow. I don't know if I want to answer that one since it presupposes I have some strength of character! I think some of it I was born with because I've always been comfortable going against the grain and doing things because they feel right. Part of me has always wanted to know more, be better and get ahead. But my parents gave my brother and me the freedom to be that way and encouraged it in us.
What is your favourite book and why?
The Spirituality of Imperfection: Storytelling and the Search for Meaning by Ernest Kurtz and Katherine Ketcham. It was a gift from my mom and dad. I think it was meant as a hint about learning the importance and relevance of making mistakes and letting go of perfection. But it's a great book-I especially love the chapter on forgiveness. I highly recommend it to both slackers and recovering perfectionists alike.