Cassandra Wajuntah’s curiosity has proven to be a critical tool in her fight for social justice.
She is the Acting Director of the Indigenous Peoples Health Research Centre (IPHRC) and a PhD candidate with the Johnson Shoyama School of Public Policy.
Her thesis is titled, ‘The Indian Solution to the Policy problem.’
A visiting scholar at the University of Hawaii in October 2016, Cassandra will be looking at Indigenous health policy in Hawaii and Canada.
“We as Indigenous people have the interventions, solutions, and know what works on how to move forward and it is actually public policy that is the problem,” she says.
When she started at the First Nations University of Canada (FNUniv), Cassandra had no idea what a PhD was or that you could have a career in research.
“I was just so intimidated by the university system, I used to always email my professors and be like ‘Hello Dr. Professor’ because I was just so scared of offending people,” says Cassandra.
Along with her parents, who both worked at the Saskatchewan Indian Federated College (SIFC – today currently FNUniv), she had Shannon Avison and Jo-Ann Episkenew as mentors.
Not only did her mentors support her academically, they became like family.
“I remember going for coffee with Shannon and talking to her for four or five hours about my issues,” she recalls.
Graduating at the top of her class with a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism in 2009, Cassandra went on to law school only to find out that her band would not fund her.
But that didn’t stop her education. Her desire to learn about the policy around Indigenous education funding lead her to complete a Master in Public Administration, and later into a career research.
“It has come full circle. My dad was a student there (FNUniv), who went on to become the Dean of Students, and ended up advising my future professors, who taught me, and I have since taught classes,” she said.
“Having this lifetime support network around you and being part of this really powerful group,” is what Cassandra says she gained from the First Nations University of Canada.
In the future, she would like to see FNUniv as a place that provides basic supports like daycare and also becoming a learning institution of excellence on an international scale.