By Cari Kilmartin
Sebastien is a graduate from the U of A Augustana Campus and former Spirit of the Land student. He conducts day-to-day Newo business operations and has a keen interest in building organizational structures that allow people to thrive.
life story so far
Born just outside Quebec City, Sebastien’s early years spanned the Western Hemisphere. His father’s job in the Canadian Air Force took the Rioux family from Quebec to Cold Lake in northern Alberta, and around age four, Sebastien’s parents brought him and his younger brother to French Guyana in South America. Three years later the family returned to Alberta and bought an undeveloped 85 acre plot of land just outside Onoway, where they’ve been ever since.
“My family has put a lot of years and effort into building [that property up], and I think Onoway is ultimately probably my hometown,” he says. “But I think travelling and living in different places when I was younger had a significant impact on my worldview and played a big part in forming who I am.”
After high school, Sebastien considered two paths, political studies at the U of A or the Royal Canadian Air Force. He ultimately chose the latter, starting basic training in September 2012 at age 19.
“I learned a lot about myself, both at the time and in hindsight,” he says. “I gained respect for my ability to adapt to pretty much any situation I could be thrown into.”
The constant close-quarter living also informed his understanding of those around him.
“It was a very diverse group of people from not only all over the world, but different life experiences and different ages,” he says. “Seeing people day in and day out, and sometimes at their worst, really taught me a lot about people and influenced my leadership style.”
Following basic training, Sebastien moved on to pilot training, which turned out to be a pivotal time in his life.
“Midway through, I started looking around and realizing that everyone was super passionate and gung ho about flying,” he says, “I just didn’t have the same passion and drive to do this stuff the others had, and I think that started eating away at me.”
His heart wasn’t in it, and, “It showed,” he says, because he failed the flight tests that would have allowed him to move forward in the RCAF.
“I would say it was my first big failure in life. Up until that point, things had come pretty easily to me, so that definitely shook me to my core,” he says. “But part of me recognised — though it wasn’t a strong part of me at first — that ultimately that wasn’t the place I was supposed to be anyways.”
Sebastien left the military after two years, and eventually attended the U of A’s Augustana Campus, where he found himself in a class that profoundly impacted him: the Spirit of the Land class, where he got to know Newo founder Rajan Rathnavalu. The class catalyzed his desire for cultural change.
“I think [the class] was pointing to what in our culture is causing us to be so materialistic and consumerist, and allowing us to treat each other and our land so poorly,” Sebastien says. “It was the first time that I felt like, ‘OK, I think this is something that I can put my energy into in an actually meaningful kind of way.’ At the time, I still didn’t know how, but I could just tell this was going to shape how I think.”
Post graduation, Sebastien has found a niche within Newo’s administrative and operational core that allows him to explore his interest in leadership and relate to his fellow team members as a self-described “professional friend.”
“I think my ultimate passion and purpose is to facilitate environments around human beings that help them truly live out their full potential,” he said. “I’m also adamant about creating leaders who are dynamic, who don’t have to be the leader all the time: leaders who create a space for others’ skills and strengths to emerge.”
rooted in people or place
While his parents’ land holds the connections of 20 years of hard work, rootedness for Sebastien “has a lot more to do with the people,” he says. “And when I think of my connection to a place like Quebec, it’s more just because there’s an accumulation of family history there. It’s not necessarily anything having to do with the land itself; the land is like a bonus on top.”
“I definitely feel connected to that land, without a doubt, but if I picture myself going to either of those places without the people, that feeling wouldn’t last as long.”