“I was going to university to play sports.”
A member of the Samson Cree Nation, Michael Swampy initially had no idea of what he wanted to do for a career; his only preference was to be in a place where he could play basketball. Eventually choosing the University of Alberta’s Augustana Campus for its community feel, Michael decided to enrol in the Bachelor of Science Kinesiology program to complement being an athlete.
Of course, as an athlete and full-time student, Michael first found it difficult to connect with other indigenous students. After running from practice to class to games, little time was left in his day to search out opportunities to make meaningful connections. Luckily, Michael’s initial evaluation of campus proved itself true, as it was Augustana’s staff that helped him build these relationships. “They would invite me out to different events for our Indigenous people. They would set up meet and greets with First Nations high schools, where I had the privilege to show them around campus during the day and then they watched our basketball game in the evening.”
It was these interactions with students that helped Michael realize he wanted to teach.
Now working as a Teacher and Athletic Director at Nipishkopahk Secondary School in Maskwacis, Michael continues to show First Nations high school students around campus—only, this time, he’s the one bringing them. “I try to bring them out to as many sporting events or academic opportunities as possible, to show others that we're just as capable and driven to succeed as anyone else off-reserve. I take pride in fighting the negative stereotypes placed on our Maskwacis people.”
Being able to speak and work with the youth from his own community, Michael says, is the most rewarding part of his job. This dedication and care for his students is apparent day to day. During the basketball season, Michael often finds himself at work from eight in the morning until sometimes 10 at night, busy preparing for his classes, basketball practices, travel and games.
Looking to the future, Michael is determined to earn his Masters in Secondary Education and to teach at the post-secondary level. Naturally, basketball remains a large part of his plans, as he also hopes to coach at the same level.
“Until then,” Michael says, “I feel like I’m making a big difference in my community.”