My name is Joseph Wabegijig and I am a 2012 graduate from the civil engineering technology program at Algonquin College. I am Odawa from the Wikwemikong First Nation, located on Manitoulin Island, Ontario, where I was born and raised. I learned from my parents and grandparents that hard work and education was important.
In my teen years, my parents split up which led to many hardships but I feel this experience also made me stronger as I learned how to take care of myself. I knew then that the only way to get ahead was through education so I moved away to get a post-secondary education at Sir Sandford Fleming College in Peterborough, Ontario where I had paid for my first year of school (tuition, books, and living expenses) with the money I had saved from the two jobs I simultaneously held while living in Wikwemikong.
I graduated, after two years, with a Home and Building Automation Technician diploma, which brought me to Ottawa where I worked in the high-end audio-video and electronics field for several years. This allowed me to work on some very large-scale projects in the nation’s capital. Some of these projects included working on electronics in the Governor General’s residence, the House of Commons and various other well-known historical buildings in Ottawa. It was by working on these large construction projects that I became inspired to become a team leader on a construction site.
In 2009, I began my next journey at Ottawa’s Algonquin College in the civil engineering technology program. During my years at Algonquin College, I was the team captain and organizer for an all-native intramural basketball team at Algonquin College and I was also the 2010-2011 interim president of the first Algonquin College Indigenous Student Council. Part of that role included being a voting member of the Aboriginal Education Council. During that year, we organized fundraisers, social activities and created a supportive community as well as a voice for Aboriginal students on campus.
I was also selected to represent the Algonquin College Aboriginal community as part of their recruitment at the 2010 Hamilton Pow-Wow, the goal being to promote higher education to Aboriginals of all ages.
In my first two years of studies, in order to support my son Phoenix and myself financially, I worked full-time for an engineer and general contractor where I was able to utilize my educational knowledge practically. However, with a more demanding course load and a desire to achieve better grades in my final year, I could no longer continue working full-time. I had financial obligations beyond my means, including financially supporting my son who lives in northern Ontario and paying high tariffs for northern flights to maintain contact with him.
In my final and third year, I began a volunteer position with Gignul Non-Profit Housing Corporation – a social housing organization that provides short and long-term housing for urban Aboriginals. Accompanying the start of my volunteer work, I received the Hydro One First Nation, Métis, and Inuit Award (engineering students), which recognizes leadership, volunteerism and participation in the academic and Aboriginal community.
The day after I wrote my last college exam, I was given the opportunity to attend Inclusion Works ’12, an event that is hosted by the Aboriginal Human Resource Council and an event that has since changed my life.
Since leaving Inclusion Works ’12, I have been in contact with many extraordinary companies. I am grateful for the time and effort the council staff put in to host this great affair and I’m appreciative to the companies who have spent time considering me for positions with their organizations. These offers coincided with the career goals I had prior to getting accepted to the Inclusion Works ’12 in Edmonton.
After the event, I simultaneously received a letter from a university accepting me into the third year of their civil engineering degree program and three great job offers, which I personally thought of as dream jobs. After receiving these very positive and overwhelming options, I thought about the many accomplished university graduates I had met at Inclusion Works. I also remembered the motivating speech that Wab Kinew had delivered. In Mr. Kinew’s speech, he mentioned a quote he heard from an Inclusion Works ’11 grad, Vanessa Mountain, who said: “education is the new buffalo.” His message, along with the determination of those university graduates, helped me decide what next step I would take toward my “dream job.”
After much thought and careful deliberation, I decided to decline the gracious job offers in order to pursue my civil engineering degree. This endeavour, which I am pursuing with confidence, will deliver greater value to me and one of the great companies I had the pleasure of being interviewed by at Inclusion Works ’12. As well, I will be able to demonstrate to my son Phoenix, and to future generations, that opening the doors to higher education is opening the doors to endless opportunities.
I am thrilled to be able to pursue my dream of becoming a professional engineer and I am currently in the intensive summer transition program at Lakehead University pursuing my engineering degree, which I will complete by 2014. I am forever grateful to my loving partner Christine, my son Phoenix, to the amazing staff at the Aboriginal Human Resource Council and to all the wonderful people who have motivated, inspired, and believed in me to bring me to where I am today.