First Nations learner uses her gifts to help others discover their own
“What I love about my Bachelor of Commerce with a major in Indigenous business is that I get to work for so many Indigenous communities,” Sheena Papin says. “I want to be placed somewhere where I can utilize my strengths and help others by offering jobs, skills, and training. I want people to wake up, be excited, and go do something they truly love. If I can be a part of that and empower them to achieve their goals and dreams, if I’ve made a difference in somebody’s life, I know that I’m affecting their family as well.”
Meet Sheena Papin
Papin, a First Nations learner from Enoch Cree Nation in Alberta, is in the first year of the Bachelor of Commerce in Indigenous Business program at Athabasca University (AU). She is from a large, blended family—she has six brothers and four sisters. Papin is of First Nations and German descent. Her mother, Michelle Morin, also a member of Enoch Cree Nation, remarried when Papin was nine years old. Papin’s stepfather, Chief Ron Morin, led the Enoch community for most of her childhood. As a summer student, she grew up working as an assistant to the Chief.
Fair-skinned and blue-eyed, Papin dealt with internalized racism and identity issues while growing up.
“I went to a Christian school and I never told anyone I was Indigenous because of stigma and racism,” shares Papin. “[People would say], ‘You’re not a real Indian because your parents don’t drink and you’re in school,’ but it wasn’t until my stepdad became the Chief, and it was in the news and the paper, and everybody was like, ‘What, you’re an Indian?’”
Proud of her Indigenous Culture and Identity
A loving mother, Papin wants her daughter to grow up proud of her First Nations culture and identity. Although she has never seen herself as a role model or an influencer, her daughter’s birth motivated her to re-evaluate her life. At 37, she wants people to know that they’re never too young or old to go back to school and build their dreams—they just need the courage to step out and do something they’ve never done before.
“I think education is important because we all have goals and dreams,” Papin says. “Whatever it is in your heart, I think you should pursue … especially for our youth. [Education] is a place for them to grow, flourish, and thrive in [any] element. [We] can learn and be role models, bring it back to [our] communities, or even help our non-Indigenous brothers and sisters.”
She recently competed in and won the Mrs. Native America Canada pageant.
“I did so to build confidence within myself after I had my daughter and to inspire others to love the skin they’re in and to be proud of how resilient our bodies can be,” she says. “I want women and men to love themselves no matter the changes that happen in themselves—physically, mentally, spiritually and emotionally.”
“Whatever it is in your heart, I think you should pursue ... especially for our youth.”– Sheena Papin
Pursuing your dreams isn't a straight path
Papin understands that following your dreams isn’t going to be a perfect path. “Everything worth having is going to be up and down … it’s the growth of the person you’re going to become in that journey [that matters],” she says. “Education is something that can spark up a flame in your soul to pursue something bigger than yourself.”
Papin says her experience with online learning through AU has been great so far. She says the Undergraduate Student Support Centre is quick to reply to any questions she has, either through email or a phone call, and that her first-year student orientation was very thorough.
“Online is great,” Papin comments. “When you’re super busy like me as a single mom and a Mary Kay sales director … doing online events with my team plus taking my daughter to hockey… I love the freedom and flexibility.”
“I love that AU has an online program because literally anyone in the world can take a program. They can tune in, they can learn how they like. I like that we have tutors and people who we can pop ideas off of. It is at our own pace. It’s great—you have time to complete your courses and if you need help, the help is there.”
Papin notes there has been a learning curve to online study, but she is excited about learning and discovering new things about herself in the process. At the end of the day, she wants to be able to inspire other people to pursue their dreams. An avid reader, Papin loves reading books on self-development, leadership, and discovering new ideas as she experiences her personal journey of faith, culture, and healing.
“The Creator has given us gifts,” adds Papin. “It’s our job to open these gifts and help other people discover theirs. I know when it’s my time, I don’t want to leave any unopened gifts on this earth.”
Papin has been interested in health, wellness, and fitness her entire life.
“Growing up, I was in taekwondo – I’m a second-degree black belt,” Papin says. “My goal when I was 21 was to go to the Olympics. I was on the junior national team of Canada, the national team of Canada, I trained the younger kids … the junior team—the junior nationals.”
At 21, Papin tore the ACL and meniscus in her knee. The team’s doctor told her she wouldn’t fight or compete ever again. At the time, she was completing an undergrad in criminology at the University of Alberta.
“So at 21, I thought my life was over,” comments Papin. “I was like, ‘What am I going to do with myself?’”
“Education is something that can spark up a flame in your soul to pursue something bigger than yourself.”– Sheena Papin
Health and wellness
To get back on track after her taekwondo career ended, Papin wholly invested herself in health and wellness. She works out five to six days a week, is a registered Zumba instructor, and has a diploma in applied nutrition science. She has worked at Indigenous youth centres, making meal plans for children, teaching them how to cook healthy meals on a budget, and giving them ideas of how they can incorporate healthy lessons into their home lives.
Along with her best friend, Barbara Dumigan Jackson, Papin also worked with Telus on an Indigenous hunting documentary called From the Bush to the Plate. Papin went out into the bush with hunters, four of her friends, and her daughter where they learned about traditional protocol, skinning, cutting, smoking, and preparing moose meat. As the documentary reached its end, the group participated in a Ceremony and feast.
“I want to show people that no matter where you come from, no matter how light you are or how dark you are, that being Indigenous is a proud thing because we are the First Peoples of this country,” Papin says.