This interview was conducted for the Humans of Nipissing University page. Please go to https://www.facebook.com/HumansofNipissingU/ to see other people share their stories.
We thank James for sharing his story.
– Humans of Nipissing University team
Where are you from?
My name is James Shecapio, and I am First Nations Cree from Waswanipi, QC. Northern Quebec. I have been studying for couple of years now. I have 4 diplomas, 3 awards and now I am going for a Business Administration Degree. This is my 3rd year and I have one more year to go. I am planning to be a consultant and probably help our people back home. Most of them get ripped off, they get overcharged, they don’t know where to get resources, they don’t know where to get help and they don’t know how to start a business. So, I just want to help them out. I am actually working on one plan already for a friend of mine who is doing an online business, they are going to be selling handmade purses, bags and keychains, all native made. It’s mostly hand-made sewing merchandise, and they will do bead work as well. Hopefully, the business should be online by next year.
Why did you come to Nipissing University?
“I love educating myself. I never had the opportunity to be recognized as a mature student when I was younger. I started my education from Canadore College, and that’s where I got my 4 diplomas from. I came to Nipissing University to upgrade my knowledge and skills in business. And, I hope to go back home and help my people out. And also, I love meeting new people. I have met a lot of people, some good and some bad. I had my ups and downs academically and also personally. I lost a lot people in my life while getting my education. I also met a lot of great people. Support from family and good friends made a huge difference to continue. Especially, from people that believe in you, with good support, you can go a long way.”
What would you say was the saddest time of your life?
“When I was a student at Canadore College, I encountered a few sad times. I lost both my parents. I had a brother that got murdered. And my common-in-law died of a heart attack. And, that was in a 10 years span. Those were the saddest days that I had to endure while I was in school and it was extremely hard. But, I never gave up because of the circumstances. These were the people that I wanted to make proud. Before they passed away, they encouraged me the most to go to school with a lot of support. As soon as I got my first diploma, I said, I’m going to quit school to take care of my dad. After my dad got sick, he almost died. My late mother told me, “Don’t quit school. Go back. Your dad’s going to be okay.” Then, we lost my brother before my dad died. Nearly, every year, I lost someone dear in my life. First it was my mom, then my brother, then I lost my dad and 9 months later I lost my spouse. I was in college during those days, and those were the saddest times I ever had and I think death is the ultimate challenge we all face when we go to school. We students make a lot of sacrifices, we leave our families, and friends. I think that’s the hardest part, for me. But I’m glad my family always supported me with school and now here I am. I made it to university.”
If your parents were alive, is there something you would want to say to them?
“One of the biggest sacrifices that every student has to make is leaving their parents, and their siblings. Some people who are older like me, had to leave my kids and grandkids. When I first told my parents I was going to school, they weren’t very happy about it. Until they found out I was doing very well with my life, because coming back to school changed my life. It gave me more opportunities, I met a lot of people, and I thank my late mother because she was the first one that encouraged me to go back to school, when, I wanted to stay home and take care of my dad. I thank her for that, for giving me the love and encouragement.
Pardon me if this is too personal, how long were you in residential schools for?
“Nine years. Nine years straight. Never went home. Never went home for Christmas, never went home for Easter. If you guys want, you can add this… I had to endure all the abuses. Every abuse. I lived through that. I even have scars. This scar… [points to his forehead] I got pushed into a wall for not snitching on my friends that were running around the hallways, just having fun. I didn’t know who was running around the hallways, and the counsellor banged my head on the wall for not speaking. My hands here… [shows us his palms] See the scars? These are straps for talking my language. I got strapped for talking my language and these are the scars I had from them. And every time we accidentally spoke our language, we got strapped. And also, um, these two scars right here… [shows us his arm] I got pushed through a window because I didn’t make my bed right, all because, there was a lump on my bed and I got pushed through a window. And this scar here… [shows us his other arm] the cigar burn? For losing a hockey game.
Photos by ©Isaac Bender