Category: Grad student stories

Opening a doorway to culture through equine assisted learning

Mishkwiingwese (She Blushes), Kelsey Moore, Zhiishigwan (Shaker/Rattle), and Angela McGinnis stand at the entrance sign, which commemorates the four grandmother mares from which the Lac La Croix Indigenous Ponies at The Red Pony Stands® Ojibwe Horse Sanctuary descend. The seven ponies who reside at the Sanctuary, which is located near the Qu’Appelle valley, contain the two original bloodlines, the Keokuk and Nimkii lines. Their lineages date back to the four Original Mares from Lac La Croix First Nation and Bois Forte Band of Chippewa that were the last remaining in the world (Lilian, Biizhiki, Diamond, and Dark Face) who were strategically bred to a Spanish Mustang Stallion (Smokey) in 1977 in order to save the breed from extinction. (Source: www.theredponystands.com) Photo credit: Shuana Niessen

What is the connection between horses, educational psychology, and Indigenous youth and culture?

Reconnecting with cultural and traditional ways of knowing and being is increasingly seen as a significant part of the healing and learning process for First Nations peoples, whose culture has been historically and systemically oppressed by the colonization process. Language revitalization has been a key focus of cultural preservation and reclamation, but Equine Assisted Learning (EAL) is a relatively new and less understood approach to learning and healing, at least among the scientific community. For Indigenous peoples, however, horses have long been viewed as carriers of knowledge and healers. The preservation of the critically endangered Lac La Croix Indigenous Ponies, then, is part of the process of cultural reclamation and preservation, and thereby healing and learning, as relations between Indigenous horses and peoples are (re)established.

Dr. Angela McGinnis, an Assistant Professor of educational psychology in the Faculty of Education and an Indigenous Health Researcher, and her graduate student, Kelsey Moore, are conducting SIDRU-funded research to better understand how and why Indigenous youth benefit from working with Indigenous horses, specifically the seven Lac La Croix Indigenous Ponies being cared for by Angela and her partner Cullan McGinnis at The Red Pony Stands® Ojibwe Horse Sanctuary. Founded by Angela and Cullan, the Sanctuary “is an Indigenous owned and operated not-for-profit.” The Sanctuary receives some financial support by private and corporate sponsors and donors; however, these supports do not cover all of the costs: Angela says, “The majority of the work and expenses fall on my partner (Cullan) and I to keep the ponies happy and healthy, both physically and spiritually. Our mission is to protect, promote, and preserve the critically endangered Lac La Croix Indigenous Pony breed.”

Angela, Cullan, and the Lac La Croix Indigenous Ponies all originate from Treaty 3 territory in Northwestern Ontario. Horses have been part of Angela’s life from her earliest memories at her home in Fort Frances. “I have a picture of me on a horse before I could even walk,” says Angela. Her parents were caretakers of Lac La Croix Indigenous Ponies and Nez Perce horses. Angela credits her father as a mentor who has taught her a great deal from his knowledge of working with horses.

Reconnecting with her Métis/Ojibwe cultural identities has been a focus of Angela’s education and healing. Cultural connectedness was a central concept in her research at Western University, where she received a PhD in clinical psychology in 2015. As part of her doctoral research, Angela developed a measure to assist in determining the extent to which cultural connectedness is associated with health and well-being, specifically among First Nations youth. Angela’s findings indicate that cultural connectedness is a positive predictor of mental health. This is critical knowledge because, as Angela says, “the mental health and well-being of youth is one of the most urgent concerns affecting many First Nations communities across Canada.” Angela views her work in educational psychology as “a perfect fit” for the research in which she is engaged. She says healing and learning are inseparable: “You can’t have healing without learning, or learning without healing.”

Doodem (Clan), who is standing, is a 5-year-old sorrel stallion from Kichi Noodin off Ishkote. His genetically matched breeding partner, seen in the foreground, is Aazadi (Cottonwood Tree). Because the ponies are critically endangered, careful DNA testing must be done before the ponies can be bred to ensure their preservation. Photo credit: Shuana Niessen

Since completing her doctoral research, Angela has been seeking to understand how cultural connectedness can be developed through, what she calls, “real-world experiences,” which include strengthened relationships with the land and all its “more-than-human” creatures, particularly the Lac La Croix Indigenous Pony. Broadening health research to include the more-than-human world is important to Angela because, she says, “We need to situate well-being within a larger network of social relations, with both the human and more-than-human worlds. We need to focus beyond the individual and extend our understandings about health and well-being to living in relation to all else, not just for the present but for future generations as well.”

With her expertise in psychology and her passion for the preservation of the Lac La Croix Indigenous Pony breed, Angela is perfectly situated to bridge, in her words, “often seemingly conflicting world views… I understand Western mental health perspectives, but this work requires an understanding of Indigenous perspectives of holistic wellness to fully understand the role of the ponies in the resilience process.” Angela likens the loss of contact with Indigenous horses experienced by Indigenous communities to the loss of family members: “Part of their family has been ripped away,” she says. Reconnecting Indigenous youth and adults with Indigenous horses brings about “indescribable moments,” says Angela. These moments spark the ‘I remember when…’ stories told by Elders about the ponies and traditional ways of life and are, Angela believes, charged with healing potential. “These are moments that could potentially change someone’s life. To see that happening in front of you, it’s a privilege.” Angela felt especially privileged to hear of the repatriation of the Lac La Croix Indigenous Pony to Nigigoonsiminikaaning First Nation, from which her partner, Cullan, originates. She says, “I was completely moved by the return of three black geldings to this community.” During a recent visit to see the community’s ponies, Cullan had opportunity to meet the geldings for the first time. Angela says, “The reunion of these family members was so powerful—an emotional reuniting. The bond between the geldings and Cullan was instant. It’s a culturally specific relationship that dates back to pre-Colonial contact. This type of relationship can’t be replicated with any other breed of horse.”

Family Reunion. The three Lac La Croix Indigenous Ponies from Nigigoonsiminikaaning First Nation gather around Cullan (Waabinaanikwad) McGinnis at first meeting. Photo credit: Angela McGinnis

Reunions such as these lead to the beginning of relationships with the more-than-human world, and are what Angela calls a “doorway to the culture,” which can help youth make other cultural connections, such as ceremony. For instance, Angela and Cullan’s relationship with the Lac La Croix Indigenous Ponies at the Sanctuary has meant that they have sought guidance from local traditional Elders and engaged in horse-specific traditional ceremonies held in communities, such as the Horse Dance. Angela would like to share the doorway experience with her Educational Psychology students: “I want to help students step through that doorway. That’s how we understand how to help others, by experiencing it ourselves. And in return we help the ponies. That’s the whole mutual helping process, helping the horses in their fight against extinction. We need the Lac La Croix Indigenous Ponies as much as they need us,” says Angela. She plans to start bringing her students out to the Sanctuary for classes in Spring. A 20-foot tipi will be raised as Angela prepares to bring her students in contact with the ponies and the land.

Master’s student Kelsey Moore, who received a B.Ed. in Indigenous Education from First Nations University of Canada, is now undertaking her M.Ed. in Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Regina under the supervision of Dr. McGinnis and the mentorship of Life Speaker Noel Starblanket. Kelsey is Métis and grew up in Yorkton. Her lifelong passion for horses began with several summers spent working with youth at horse camps and riding stables and continued with her experience of getting to know the Curly Horse breed at her inlaws’ farm. Her thesis research question perfectly intersects with Angela’s interest in understanding and offering evidence-based research to explain how and why Indigenous youth benefit in both educational outcomes and mental health, through establishing relationships with horses and how Equine Assisted Learning programs can be successfully culturally adapted.

Angela, Mishkwiingwese (She Blushes), and Kelsey demonstrate a teamwork exercise, learned at the EAL certification course. Photo credit: Shuana Niessen

Kelsey and Angela are amazed to have found each other. Angela says, “What are the chances of me finding a student who wants to work with Indigenous horses?” The two researchers are working toward the same ends as those involved in language revitalization: “We are all tackling a shared goal: Cultural preservation,” Angela says. The actual preservation of the critically endangered Lac La Croix Indigenous Pony extends as a metaphor for cultural and identity preservation: “Their mere presence is a counternarrative to the colonial narrative of the extinction of Indigenous horses to the Americas,” says Angela. Indeed, the Lac La Croix Indigenous Pony’s survival itself inspires hope. But beyond that, Angela feels that interaction with Indigenous horses gives “Indigenous youth opportunities to connect with horses who have resilience and strength, like their own, that they can identify with, a culturally specific story,” she says.

What exactly is Equine Assisted Learning (EAL)?

Snowshoe and Starblanket (2016) state that EAL “is a relatively new approach to knowledge acquisition that draws primarily on the tenets of experiential learning, that is, learning through hands-on experience with the horse (Dell, Chalmers, Dell, Sauve, & MacKinnon, 2008).”

To deepen her understanding of EAL, Kelsey received EAL certification in August at Cartier Farms, near Prince Albert. Cartier Farms teaches that establishing an experiential hands-on working relationship with horses, with their sensitivity, non-verbal communications, resilience, and forgiving ways, can be an effective approach to learning, to self-knowledge, and to self-evaluation.

Angela, who has been guided by the traditional Elders, Knowledge Keepers, and communities with whom she has worked, sees the potential for healing and learning in culturally adapted EAL. Angela views horses as “more-than-human co-constructors of knowledge.” Horses have much to teach us about the land and living on the land, she says. Elders and Knowledge Keepers have taught Angela that, with their four feet always on the ground, horses have a greater connection with Mother Earth, and through this connection, the Creator. Thus, traditionally, horses have been considered a source of maintaining and recovering holistic wellness.

Upon the arrival of Angela’s first Pony at the Sanctuary, a beautiful stallion, affectionately named Sagineshkawa (Pleasure with my Arrival), she says, “I realized that I should not rush things. I needed to slow down and have humility, especially around a powerful being like a horse…This was the horse that I had to pay attention to and listen to spiritually.” Angela is grateful to all her ponies for their patience in teaching her. Kelsey’s experiences with horses have similarly given her the understanding that she must “slow down and be present in the moment,” she says. “Helping humans slow down is a way that the horses care for us,” says Angela. She views the horse-human relationship as one of mutual caring: “We are caretakers of them and the land, but the ponies also take care of us.”

Yet, there is an urgency that requires speed in this research due to the need for Indigenous youth to be able to access culturally adapted healing and learning programs. As a mother of a toddler, Kelsey had intended to move a bit slower with her research, but she says everything is moving much quicker than she planned or expected. Kelsey’s research, using what Angela describes as “a pure Indigenous research method,” seeks to understand the spiritual and cultural connections between Indigenous youth and Indigenous horses. Incorporating ceremony as research, Kelsey is documenting her interactions and deep listening experiences with the ponies, along with the conversations she has with Elders and Knowledge Keepers to make sense of what she observes.

The two researchers are already envisioning and talking about future plans. Angela says, “We hope to apply for an operating grant to help Kelsey set up her own Indigenous-centered Equine-Assisted Learning and healing program in the community, following the completion of her academic work.”

The Sanctuary has recently gained international attention. It will be featured in a short documentary film currently being produced by National Geographic as part of the Natural Connections Project. The film will document how EAL contributes to the well-being of First Nations youth. Through the film, Angela hopes to showcase “how Indigenous communities are using horses to connect with culture, strengthen positive relationships, and learn through activities with horses and nature.”

By Shuana Niessen

Credits for photos below: Shuana Niessen 2018

Teaching STE(A)M outside of the box

Carla Cooper, a 2018 recipient of the Prime Minister’s Award for Teaching Excellence in STEM. Photo credit: Shuana Niessen

“I don’t teach in a box, and I want students to take risks, too. I want my kids to become healthy risk takers.”

How does one go from a struggling student in math and sciences to an award winning STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) teacher? For Carla Cooper it took finding her way past failures and obstacles and learning to teach outside of the box.

In May, Carla Cooper (BEd ’08), a teacher at Lumsden High School and graduate student doing her Master’s in Education at the University of Regina, was informed that she was a recipient of the prestigious Prime Minister’s Award for Teaching Excellence in STEM.

Cooper, who grew up in Moose Jaw, went back to school for a semester after graduating from high school to improve her marks. “I knew I wanted to do something in the sciences but I struggled in the sciences and math, quite badly. Fifties weren’t going to be good enough for me, so I spent a semester at Vanier, thinking a change might help. It was a huge help.” The change, or possibly a new maturity, Carla speculates, gave her success at Vanier, and from there, she went to Red Deer College to become a geneticist. However, life got in the way and before she finished, Cooper left college, moved home, got married, and began her family.

Not long after, Carla started in a new career direction: She had always been drawn to teaching. “I was that kid who had a chalkboard in my bedroom. I was always pretending, playing school. I love being in school: the atmosphere, being around the staff and students, the smell of the school; it’s weird. I love the sounds, the feel, the buzz.” Cooper was working as an Educational Assistant when Dr. Sandy Kitz observed her teaching math. Carla says, “Afterwards she pulled me into her office. I thought I was in a lot of trouble, but Dr. Kitz said, ‘What are you doing here? You need to go back to school. You need to spread your wings and fly.’ That was the push,” says Cooper. The next step in 2001, was to enroll part-time in Science, while waiting for admission to the Faculty Education at the University of Regina. Cooper took the required sciences for the Science Education program and in 2004, she was accepted to the Education program, in which she chose a double major in biology and chemistry, and moved to full-time studies.

By that time she was a busy single mom, and her memorable moment is not a very positive one: “It was the first year I was accepted into the Faculty of Education, and my first time back at University on a daily basis, and I got my first Biology mark back…it was horrible. I had really high expectations of myself but I realized that just because you’re mature, doesn’t mean you are going to succeed.” But Cooper pushed past this initial failure. From there, she says, “I improved and improved and improved and I figured out how to be a mom and a student.”

Recalling this experience led Cooper to a more positive story of her undergrad experience in her third year, when she found the science ed group “very accommodating.” At the time, Carla was feeling concerned because her youngest son was at home recovering from surgery, and a big project presentation was due. Her instructor, John MacDonald, had said, “Just bring him in.” Carla recalled, “My son just had his appendix out, but he said ‘bring him in’ and so I brought him in, and John had a lab set up with a whole bunch of laser activities for my son to do. John kept an eye on him while I did my presentation. Nobody in my class thought ‘there she is bringing her kid in.’ It was the opposite…I was celebrated for going back to school.”

Learning from both of Cooper’s memorable experiences can be seen in her current teaching philosophy. Cooper says, “I’ve had students coming back to school with babies; it’s just, like, babies cry…” So Carla recalls that on one lecture day, she told the student mother to let her hold the baby, and she says, “I just rocked that baby and taught and said, ‘no mom, you do your thing. Let me just hold him.'” Her role model, she says, is John MacDonald. “He is number one! I want to be John,” says Carla. What makes John special is, Carla says, is “his excitement, and his belief that you can do this. If you can’t figure it out this way, let’s find another way. He is so accepting of everybody,” says Cooper. “I can call him up for anything…I never want to lose the connection.”

Since her time as an undergrad student, Carla has had many other experiences that have contributed to her success as a teacher. Working for a time as Acting Vice Principal, gave Carla the opportunity to develop an appreciation for the administrative side of education. Though she likes to teach, as she says, “outside of the box,” she also respects the administrative process. “Having admin experience has made me a better teacher. I understand the Division’s vision. I try to keep up on what’s been changing with the Division. I want to abide by my Division’s philosophies. I don’t want to step outside their vision. They allow me to expand the bubble a lot.”

Carla also attributes the experience of working on the writing team for the Health Science 20 curriculum with her new understanding of teaching outside of the box. Through this process, she realized, “We don’t have to teach a prescribed curriculum. We have to teach the outcomes, but the indicators can be taught in the way that we like them, or grouped together with indicators from other units, or you can make up your own.”

For Cooper this understanding has unleashed her creativity, which she realizes through the incorporation of arts-based projects. For instance, she decided to model her human anatomy unit after Grey’s Anatomy. Students are placed in resident groups, and each group is assigned a fictional celebrity patient, those Cooper has assessed as being a match with certain types of health issues, such as Will Smith whom students will diagnose and treat for sickle cell anemia. Using the Diagnosis for Classroom Success program booklet, which is a book of labs to be worked through in a week or two, students “delve deeply,” working through the book over four months. Cooper says, “We weren’t learning about the human body for the next few weeks, we learned about a patient, learning through the eyes of a patient.”

Cooper allowed for the ethical and diagnostic conversations that developed, pushing the students to deeper learning. She says, “At that point I didn’t know what deeper learning was, but the deeper questions students were asking, we just ran with.”

Because this wasn’t a Grade 12 course, the final assessment was not a test. Instead, students were asked, “Did their patient live or die? How did they treat? Was their treatment ethical? Did they do invasive or non-invasive? What secretions did they evaluate, and why? What was the chemistry breakdown of that? And, how did the physics work for the cat scan? They had to do a peer review and self-review.” Carla created a rubric to go with the project and students marked themselves on the rubric. “These simulations have helped students either enter a science-oriented career, or decide against it. It has also helped prepare them for their post-secondary classes,” says Carla.

When she first received the news in May that she was a recipient of the Prime Minister’s Award for Excellence in Teaching STEM, Carla wasn’t sure if the letter was for real. She sent it to her husband, asking, “Am I reading this right?” When she finally processed what was happening, she felt humbled and thought, “What makes me different? I am no different than any other teacher. But I’m just realizing that I do things a bit different.” Carla is excited, by the new connections and opportunities to pass on her curricular understandings to others, including preservice teachers, generated by this recognition.

When asked what excellence in teaching looks like, Cooper says, “I don’t even know if I am excellent, yet. I feel like I’ve done excellent teaching when I’ve excited students by allowing them to be who they are. We have student-directed study and I don’t put any constraints on that. I don’t teach in a box, and I want students I take risks, too. I want my kids to become healthy risk takers. If something flops, it flops. I’ve adopted the phrase fail forward. We are F-squareds in C-squared rooms.” As Carla continues to envision what teaching outside of the box looks like, she finds her focus moving towards a new kind of box: a sandbox. She says, “My whole focus is practicing real world science and getting kids back in the sandbox. At recess the kids are playing, communicating, problem solving, building, and doing the six big Cs in education. Why are we not doing that? I take them to the playground, to the teeter-totter, if there is one. So in the last few years, I’ve been working to bring the students back to a metaphoric sandbox, but I hope to have a real sandbox in the classroom as well.”

By Shuana Niessen

Treaty4Project inspires new way to offer treaty education in Regina

(l-r) Leia Laing, Governor General Julie Payette and Naomi Fortier-Fréçon at Rideau Hall in Ottawa. Photo courtesy of VCpl Vincent Carbonneau

Naomi Fortier-Fréçon and Leia Laing are still relatively early in their teaching careers but they have already left an important legacy.

This past November, Fortier-Fréçon and Laing, both graduates of the U of R, received the Governor General’s History Award for Excellence in Teaching. Governor-General Julie Payette, presented the award at a ceremony at Rideau Hall in Ottawa.

They were recognized for co-founding the Treaty4Project in 2014 while they were teachers at Regina’s Campbell Collegiate High School.

Fortier-Freçon, while still teaching, is a U of R student once again, working on her PhD.

“When we accepted this honour we were very happy to see that our project was recognized at a national level,” says Fortier-Fréçon. “A lot of work and effort was put into this project and it was very exciting to see how this education project has evolved since it began in 2014.”

The Treaty4Project 2015 mural is on display at Regina’s Scott Collegiate. Photo courtesy of Leia Laing

The idea for the project came when Laing and Fortier-Fréçon concluded that students were not receiving the treaty education required.

So they started working on a program.

“First, the inspiration was to find a way to ‘think outside the box’ and find a creative way to teach about treaty education,” says Laing. “We were troubled by the reality that our students seemed to know very little about treaty education and when they knew something we noticed that they weren’t necessarily applying their knowledge in their lives. Therefore, they seemed to know the “right answer” on paper, but unfortunately that reality was not reflected in their actions or relationship with their friends and the community around them.”

The teachers started developing their idea. They searched for input. They approached Calvin Racette who was the Indigenous Education Coordinator with Regina Public Schools.

Racette supported the project from the beginning and suggested the teachers include Noel Starblankett, Knowledge Keeper at the University of Regina and Sandra Bellegarde, Indigenous Education Consultant with Regina Public Schools.

“Noel Starblanket was essential in the creation of this educational project,” says Fortier-Fréçon. “His presence allowed us to learn in a personal way about the importance of treaties. He also guided us regarding the respect of Indigenous protocols and offered support to our students.”

More people came onboard and the project “quickly snowballed into a group of inspired, passionate members who became the founding committee. Together we started to imagine the Treaty4Project,”says Fortier-Fréçon.

The principal aim of the project is for student to understand their generation’s relationship with Treaty 4 in Saskatchewan. The project provides students with an opportunity to engage with community members including elders, Indigenous artists, university professors, activists, and education students.

Laing had the idea to use art to help the students reflect about the meaning of treaties in a creative context. The result was a major mural project with Cri-Métis artist Ray Keighley at Regina’s Scott Collegiate in 2015.

A second mural created in 2017 and created with Cri-Ojibway artist Lloyd Dubois is on display at the library at École Elsie Mironuck Community School in Regina.

(l-r) Naomi Fortier-Fréçon, Noel Starblanket, Knowledge Keeper at the U of R and Leia Laing.

The Treaty4Project founding committee worked on organizing a youth conference to deepen the knowledge previously taught in the classroom and allow members of the community to share their stories with the students. Elders were regularly brought into classes.

More than 200 students from four high schools took part in the first conference in 2015. Two more conferences followed and now a fourth one is scheduled for 2018.

“The Treaty4Project has allowed us to have the opportunity to work in collaboration and build relationships among students, teachers and institutions and this is what we believe to be the true meaning of reconciliation,” says Fortier-Fréçon.

Says Laing: “Using personal stories from guest speakers, our students are invited to unlearn the official narrative and open their heart to other realities that they might not be aware of. Understanding these stories helped our students access a more inclusive history narrative and acknowledge that they have the privilege of living here because in the past a treaty was signed.”

Leia Laing is now teaching Grade 6 at École Monseigneur de Laval. She earned her Bachelor of Education at the U of R in 2008.

Naomi Fortier-Fréçon teaches French Immersion at École Elsie Mironuck Community School in Regina. She earned her Bachelor of Education at the U of R in 2007 and her Master of History at Université de Sherbooke in 2010. She is currently a PhD student in the Faculty of Education working under the supervision of Dr. Fadila Boutouchent.

Laing and Fortier-Fréçon say this project was made possible thanks to the support from:

Saskatchewan Arts Board
First Nations University of Canada
Faculty of Education (U of R)
The McDowell Foundation
Regina public schools

Founding Committee Members:

Noel Starblanket
Calvin Racette
Sandra Bellegarde
Monique Bowes
Hillary Ibbott-Neiszner
Dr. Angelina Weenie
Dr. Kathleen O’Reilly from First Nations University of Canada
Artists Ray Keighley and Lloyd Dubois.

The teaching team since 2015 are all U of R Education alumni:

Heather Findlay – Martin Collegiate
Tamara Ryba – Scott Collegiate
Tana Mitchell – Balfour Collegiate
Tiffany Agopsowicz – Martin Collegiate
Janine Taylor and Jessica Moser – Sheldon Williams
Elizabeth Therrien – Campbell Collegiate
Tracey Ellis – FW Johnson High School.

Other Presenters and Supporters:

Dr. Shauneen Pete (former Indigenous Lead/U of R)
Dr. Anna-Leah King (Faculty of Education)
Dr. Jennifer Tupper (Former Dean of the Faculty of Education)
Dr. James Daschuk, (U of R)
Rap singer Brad Bellegarde (aka InfoRed)
Cadmus Delorme (Chief of the Cowessess First Nation)
Dr. Mike Cappello (Education Faculty) and many more presenters from 2015 to the present day.

University of Regina feature story by Costa Maragos

International graduate students bring diverse viewpoints on Indigenization of adult education classes

The Education graduate class – Trends and Issues in Indigenous Adult Education – includes students from Brazil, Canada (including Nunavut and Quebec), Nigeria, Pakistan, South Africa, and Sri Lanka. The class was led by Dr. Cindy Hanson (front left), Associate Professor of Adult Education/Human Resource Development in the Faculty of Education. Seated next to Hanson is elder Alma Poitras who spoke in the class. Photo by Costa Maragos – External Relations

By Costa Maragos

Graduate students with diverse backgrounds have come together with a common goal of decolonizing adult learning.

The graduate course, Trends and Issues in Indigenous Adult Education, explores research, theory, and the practice of trends, issues, and perspectives in Indigenous learning.

Students from six countries were in the class from Brazil, Canada, Nigeria, Pakistan, South Africa and Sri Lanka. The diversity speaks to the higher number of international students who are choosing to further their studies at the University of Regina.

Having such a mix of backgrounds and viewpoints in one class made for some eye-opening perspectives on trends and issues involved in decolonizing adult learning in order to improve Indigenous education.

The class was led by Dr. Cindy Hanson, Associate Professor of Adult Education/Human Resource Development in the Faculty of Education.

“The class was important in this case because it was a coming together of international and Indigenous students in a very organic way and with a broad range of understandings regarding history, culture, and politics in Indigenous Adult Education,” says Hanson. “The course offered an opportunity to put this into practice. Experiences from the field of adult learning were built into the content.”

Many also feel little has been done to build structures and programs in communities for adult learning about decononization and Indigenous issues. They see this class as a good start. The students appreciated the participatory approach to Hanson’s class, allowing for discussions.

The students frequently exchanged and shared ideas on indigenization of education from their perspectives. Shown here are Nadeeka Obada Lekamlage (l) and Twana White (R).

José Wellington Sousa is from Brazil and is working on his PhD in Adult Education at the U of R. He has earned a BA in Economics and a Masters of Science in Administration at the University of Amazonia in Brazil.

“The class was a great example of what is going on in Canada right now. I can see the diversity in the classroom. We can learn from each other. We had many nations and sharing and reflecting on Indigenous education,” says Sousa. “In Brazil, we are kind of behind in the discussions of decolonization. So we are not even talking about reconciliation and addressing the injustice. I see this class as an opportunity to understand and learn.”

Issah Gyimah, who earned his Bachelor of Education at the University of South Africa, grew up in the post-Apartheid era. He’s taught in South Africa, South Korea, and Saudi Arabia. He started his studies at the U of R in September.

“Coming from Africa and knowing about Apartheid, colonization, and racism, I have learned a lot from here and this class,” says Gyimah. “It has changed my perspective on how I see things. This class is a good foundation.”

Gyimah points out that adult education in South Africa is a growing area and a field that is not completely developed.

“We’ve been looking at children, but adults have influence on the children. There is a backlog of adults who did not get an education so this has left a big gap in South Africa,” he says.

“You realize with such a diverse class…you become more conscious about the impact colonization has on people.” -Student Cantelle Renwick

Pauline Copland earned her Education Degree from Arctic College in Nunavut. She’s working towards her masters in curriculum and instruction at the U of R. Her first language is Inuktikut.

“From the readings and talking to my classmates, I learned things about our Canadian history, even my own history, like residential schools. It affected who I am without knowing,” says Copland, who appreciates the class diversity. “Compared to where I went to school, coming here looks like the whole world is here. The diversity is really nice, meeting people from different countries.”

The class includes one student from Saskatchewan, who sees her experience and diverse views as an asset that will help her down the road.

Chantelle Renwick has a Business Degree from the U of R and a graduate diploma in teaching from New Zealand. It was her experience in New Zealand that started her passion for Indigenous education. She’s working on her masters in Indigenous Education.

“What we hear over and over is that colonization has happened in so many part of the world and that Indigenous people have been dealing with the loss of culture and language,” says Renwick, who is an instructor of Office Administration at Saskatchewan Polytechnic in Regina.

“You realize with such a diverse class the different history and different feelings and perspective that the adult learners bring to the classroom. You become more conscious about the impact colonization has on people.”

The final class December 5, in the presence of elder Alma Poitras, featured a discussion about what the students learned and how it could be applied to their workplace or personal lives.

The classes also featured speakers including elders, a speaker from the Office of the Treaty Commission, a Metis lawyer storyteller, a talk by the U of R’s James Daschuk author of Clearing The Plains, and a fieldtrip to the Royal Saskatchewan Museum led by curator Dr. Evelyn Siegfried.

“Decolonizing adult education is a current theme in the field of adult education and a critical perspective on how to do this with a range of learners is important,” says Hanson.

The University of Regina has enjoyed an increase of graduate students. As of the Fall 2017, 1,902 graduate students are furthering their studies at the University.

Bac alumni recipients of the Governor General’s History Award for Excellence in Teaching

*Naomi Fortier-Fréçon et Leia Laing
Lauréates du Prix d’histoire du Gouverneur général pour l’excellence en enseignement 2017
_________________________________________
Naomi Fortier-Fréçon and Leia Laing
Recipients of the 2017 Governor General’s History Award for Excellence in Teaching

Projet multi-écoles, Regina (Saskatchewan)

Le Treaty4Project a principalement pour but d’aider les élèves à comprendre les liens qui relient leur génération au Traité 4 en Saskatchewan, aujourd’hui et dans les années à venir. Grâce à la participation d’aînés, d’artistes autochtones, de professeurs d’université, d’activistes et d’étudiants en éducation, le projet donne aux élèves l’occasion d’échanger avec des membres de la communauté et d’acquérir les connaissances fondamentales dont ils ont besoin pour s’attaquer à des dossiers très complexes. Le projet a été mis sur pied en 2015 avec le soutien du Saskatchewan Arts Board et comporte maintenant deux composantes. La première est une conférence pour les élèves du secondaire à l’Université des Premières Nations du Canada où l’on propose aux participants des ateliers, des discussions de groupe et des réflexions sur l’histoire du traité et l’éducation. En 2016 s’est ajoutée une nouvelle composante faisant appel aux élèves du niveau élémentaire; ces derniers ont alors collaboré avec un artiste local à un projet visant à explorer le concept de réconciliation. Mme Fortier-Fréçon et Mme Laing sont des enseignantes d’histoire du Canada enthousiastes et dévouées et le Treaty4Project est un bon exemple de la façon dont les enseignants peuvent intégrer des gestes de réconciliation concrets dans leur salle de classe.

Multi-school project, Regina (Saskatchewan)

The principal aim of the Treaty4Project is for students to understand their generation’s relationship with Treaty 4 in Saskatchewan, both today and in the future. Through the participation of elders, Indigenous artists, university professors, activists, and education students, the project provides students with a chance to engage with community members and gain the fundamental knowledge they need to tackle very complex issues. The project was first implemented in 2015 with the support of the Saskatchewan Arts Board and now has two main components. The first is a youth conference for high school students at the First Nations University of Canada, which features workshops, group discussions, and reflections on treaty history and education. As a new component in 2016, elementary students collaborate with a local artist on a project that explores the concept of reconciliation. Ms. Fortier-Fréçon and Ms. Laing are enthusiastic and dedicated to teaching Canadian history and the Treaty4Project serves as an example of how educators can incorporate meaningful acts of reconciliation in their classroom.

Reposted from http://www.canadashistory.ca/Awards/Governor-General-s-History-Awards/Award-Recipients/2017/Naomi-Fortier-Frecon-and-Leia-Laing

Naomi Fortier-Fréçon is a graduate of the Bac program and currently a PhD candidate in the Faculty of Education (Supervisor: Fadila Boutouchent). Leia Laing is a graduate of the Bac program. Both are French immersion teachers at Campbell Collegiate in Regina, Saskatchewan. 

Naomi and Leia will be presented with the Governor General’s History Award at Rideau Hall  in Ottawa, ON, on November 22, 2017.

*About Treaty4Project http://treaty4thenextgeneration.blogspot.ca/

 

 

President’s Distinguished Graduate Student Award Recipient

President Vianne Timmons and Sylvia Smith at fall 2017 convocation. Photo credit: U of R Photography

Sylvia Smith, Founder of Project of Heart, received the President’s Distinguished Graduate Student Award at the fall 2017 convocation. This award recognizes outstanding academic performance and is granted to a student whose graduating thesis, exhibition, or performance and the corresponding defense was deemed meritorious by the examining committee.

In an earlier issue of Education News, Sylvia discussed the obstacles she had faced that had delayed the completion of her Master’s degree. She had started her degree in 2011 and was interested in finding out about teachers’ perceptions of Project of Heart, an inquiry-based learning project that examines the history and legacy of Indian residential schools in Canada and commemorates the lives of former students who died while attending Indian residential schools. The project had grown out of students’ demands for more information on this neglected aspect of Canadian history. Sylvia had finished interviewing her participants when, she says, “we had an illness in the family and I became very over-stressed. My work suffered.” Sylvia had to put her thesis work on hold, and by the time she came back to it, Sylvia said, “the landscape had changed so much. When I’d started, materials on Indian residential schools were almost nil…And Project of Heart had grown exponentially!” Her initial vision which was to be a “snapshot in time” had become much more, and she had to face the challenge of figuring out how it would all come together.

Not only did she work through these challenges, Sylvia was the recipient of this prestigious award.

Sylvia says it feels great to be finished. “I can’t believe it’s actually finished. I’ve never really thought of myself as an academic and certainly, with ‘life’ intruding the way it tends to, I never thought I would finish the darned thing. I’m just so lucky to have had a wonderfully supportive spouse and thesis committee (Dr. Carol Schick actually came out of retirement to help out) because they certainly didn’t have to do what they did.”

What excites her about her thesis, Sylvia says, “is that my findings have already been referenced to support work being done around reconciliation and the necessity of teaching *for* justice and more practically, *doing* it.”

Sylvia’s master’s thesis is called: Teachers’ Perceptions of Project of Heart, An Indian Residential School Education Project

Abstract:

The purpose of this study was to gain insight into how settler teachers took up an arts and activist-based Indian Residential School Commemoration Project called Project of Heart. More specifically, it sought to assess whether or not the research participants were led to transformation, demonstrated through disrupting “common sense” (racist) behaviours of teachers and students as well as through their engagement in social justice work that Project of Heart espouses.

Since 2007, Ontario school boards have been required by Ministry policy to teach the “Aboriginal Perspective” in their high school courses, yet at the time of the study (2010), there were still very few resources available for educators to do so. There were even fewer resources available to teach about the Indian Residential School era. Project of Heart was created by an Ontario teacher and her students in 2007 in order to address this egregious situation.

The study was guided by grounded theory methods and the findings suggest that while Project of Heart did not achieve “transformation” in its participants as assessed through teachers’ lack of completion of the social justice requirement, teachers indicated that both students and teachers benefited greatly because of the relevance of the learning.

Defended: April 2017

Thesis Committee

Supervisor: Dr. Marc Spooner
External Examiner:
Dr. Cindy Blackstock, Executive Director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada and professor for the School of Social Work at McGill University
Thesis committee members:
Dr. Ken Montgomery, University of Windsor, Dean, Faculty of Education and Dr. Carol Schick, former Canada Research Chair in Social Justice and Aboriginal Education

Read more about Sylvia and the Project of Heart here: http://www2.uregina.ca/education/news/disrupted-studies-a-teacher-researcher-success-story/

 

Students Volunteer in Language Program for New Canadian Women

ELNG 200 students are volunteering in a community-based language program for new Canadian women with infants and preschool-aged children. The program was developed by the Faculty of Education’s Dr. Fatima Pirbhai-Illich and Professor Emeritus Dr. Meredith Cherland in partnership with the Saskatchewan Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC).

ELNG 200 is a second-year Faculty of Education course that prepares future teachers to support students learning to speak, read, and write the English language. As part of the course requirements, students must be involved in 8-10 hours of critical service volunteering. However, with approximately 30 students per course looking to fulfil their volunteer requirements in teaching English as an additional language (EAL), this requirement can pose a difficulty. Dr. Fatima Pirbhai-Illich, who teaches the course, says, “Sometimes students are left scrambling.” Thus, she began looking for new venues where her students could volunteer.

Dr. Pirbhai-Illich approached a colleague, Professor Emeritus Dr. Meredith Cherland, about the needs of her students. Dr. Cherland, who is chair of the Welcoming the Newcomer Committee for her church, Our Savior’s Lutheran Church in Regina, had been working with the committee, filling out federal forms of application for sponsoring a Syrian family of six. The committee was aware that the process would take several more months and they were asking themselves what to do in the meantime.

Meredith had met 18-year-old Finda Sam, her husband Amos Kamato, and their baby boy at church. Meredith says, “The couple had spent many years of their young lives in a refugee camp in Guinea, although they were born in Sierra Leone. Their first language is Kisi, an African language I had never heard of.” Finda had approached Meredith, asking if she could help her to learn to speak English better, and to learn to read and write English. Finda was waiting for a childcare opening before she could begin English classes at the Open Door Society. “The classes at Open Door and the Library have a limited number of spaces and there are wait lists,” says Meredith.

With Finda’s situation in mind, Meredith and Fatima started thinking about the many new Canadian women in Regina who could not attend EAL classes because they had babies or preschoolers to care for. They began working to set up a community-based language program for newcomers to Canada, specifically those who are on waiting lists for language classes through the Open Door Society, the Regina Public Library, and the Regina Immigrant Women’s Centre. Fatima with her extensive EAL background was willing to teach a language and literacy class for newcomer women with babies or preschoolers on Tuesday and Friday mornings. This would also give her U of R ELNG 200 students opportunities for volunteering.

Thus resolved, Fatima and Meredith began looking for a space, and were at first discouraged because they had no budget. Meredith, then, applied to the Saskatchewan Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC) for funding. The ELCIC awarded them $1,100.

Central Lutheran Church offered them space without charge. “This is the most important part,” says Fatima, “It’s amazing, and we wouldn’t have been able to offer the program without it.”

The funding, then, would cover tea, juice, and snacks for the students and their children and the services of a coordinator. Cynthia Schultz, a University of Regina master’s student in the Faculty of Education, was hired as the coordinator.

With a space, a teacher, a coordinator and volunteers in place, they advertised the course at the Open Door Society, the Regina Public Library and the Lutheran churches in Regina. The first class was offered on October 4.

Coordinator Cynthia Schultz says, “So far, we have only held five classes, but we have had 11 women attend, with nine attending regularly, and about nine children under the age of five attending. Around seven students from Fatima’s class [ELNG 200] come on Tuesday mornings and nine on Fridays.”

Others from the Faculty are also involved. Dr. Christine Massing  helps with the children on Tuesdays. The students from ELNG 200 and students from Fatima’s master’s classes have taken this opportunity to donate items such as diapers and clothing for the EAL students to take home. Yan Yang, a PhD student, also comes out to help tutor each week.

Some women from the Lutheran Church are also volunteering, helping with set up and bringing homemade halal snacks once per week. Bernice Casper, a volunteer from Our Savior’s Lutheran Church, says, “I think this is so wonderful for new Canadians to have this opportunity to learn English one-on-one—it’s one-on-one—that’s what I want to emphasize about this program. I also love the interactions between the U of R students and the English students.”

Fatima prepares all the course material after assessing where EAL students are at with their English. She also assists her ELNG 200 student volunteers with strategies for teaching EAL. The Regina Public Library has helped with curriculum.

EAL student Rasha has been attending the program for one month and says she likes it; “I’m learning many words,” she says. She is finding new friends through the program; “We help each other with English.”

University of Regina student Jenna Magnusson works with Rasha as her EAL tutor. Jenna says, “This has been a good experience. I’m gaining insights about people learning English.” One of her strategies is to use her Google translator to look up a word in Arabic when her student gets stuck on a word.

EAL student Finda Sam works with U of R student Jonah Norman-Gray. Finda also likes the program and says she is learning. She says, “I want to learn to read, to read and write.” She would also like to learn to drive. Once these skills are in place, she will consider what she would like to do in the future.

What has volunteering taught him? Jonah says, “Awkwardness [when teaching EAL] is not a problem. Situations where you are not sure what to say are normal. Awkwardness just means you care about the situation.” Working as a volunteer in this program is important to Jonah because, he says, “I will be using this [experience] in the future–I think it is very important work.” Jonah adds, “It is good to see this kind of program show up in a grass-roots scenario. This is beautiful–it is the goodness of people.”

Miriam, a mother of four, has also found the program helpful. She says, “Everyone helps me learn English.” She has also found new friendships through the program. U of R students Taylor Raby and Darian Kaszas work together with Miriam using a picture dictionary. Speaking to the value of this experience, Darian says the program “will help a lot for future educators. We are bound to have students who don’t speak English,” and Taylor adds, “or students who are trying to learn another language.” Taylor says she has learned that when teaching EAL, “it really helps if you go slowly and repeat a lot.”

Cynthia Schultz focuses on the value of this program for the EAL students. She says, “For me, I see the importance of these classes for the women who attend. They are no longer at home all day by themselves or only with their young children. They come to us for four hours per week, they get to socialize with other women, and of course, they learn a variety of English language and literacy skills. On the first day, everyone was shy, but now they come in and you can see that they are excited to be here…I have noticed their language skills becoming much stronger and it is wonderful to see.”

For the future, Fatima is interested in making this program a self-sustaining model: She says, “It is for community from community.” She is hoping to interest retired teachers in the program, and more student volunteers.

Meredith says, “Things have been going well, and we will try to continue as long as there is a need. The Faculty of Education and its students are truly in partnership with the ELCIC on this project. The church is providing space to meet, funds to keep us going, and people to help. The Faculty is providing a teacher, and students to provide one-on-one tutoring, practice with English, and friendship. The project is only one thing our church is doing to help refugees, and only one thing the Faculty of Education is doing to respond to the world around us and its educational needs. It seems to me that God is calling us all to contribute. There are, after all, 21 million refugees in the world today, according to the United Nations.”

To see photo gallery, slide your cursor over the photo below and click on the arrow to see the next photo.

 

ELNG 200 Students Volunteer for Language Program

 

Disrupted Studies: A Teacher-Researcher Success Story

Sylvia Smith

 

Typically, our Teacher-Researcher story features teachers who have completed their M.Ed. programs, having successfully defended their theses. However, one of the realities of educational journeys, especially for adult learners, is that they are often disrupted by life and circumstance. The following is an interview with Ottawa teacher and U of R grad student, Sylvia Smith, whose academic journey has been disrupted mostly because of a grad student project that has been taken up nationally: the Project of Heart. In fact, Smith won the Governor General’s History Award for Excellence in Teaching in 2011 because of this project.

1. Why did you choose to do your graduate degree at the Faculty of Education, University of Regina? (especially given your location in Ottawa.)

At the time, my mom and dad were still alive and I had family in Saskatchewan. My family went there every summer to visit. Since I was a teacher and had summers off, it seemed like a fruitful way to combine my interest in graduate work as well as to keep the family connection going.

2. How would you describe your experience as a student at the U of R?

I have had nothing but GREAT experiences as a student at the U of R! Our second daughter was quite young and needed childcare when I started my course work in 2007, and we were able to enrol her in the summer programs that were held right at the University…in the gym in fact! So it was a very stress-free endeavour! We (myself, my partner and daughter) stayed in the residence there, had the childcare taken care of, and I was free to attend my courses!

3. While studying with us, you developed the Project of Heart. Briefly outline what a Project of Heart looks like.POH 003

Initially Project of Heart (POH) had five distinct parts, and now it has six. Part 1 dealt with learning about the Indian Residential Schools (IRS), why they were created, how many there were, what the conditions were like for the students, and so on. Because there were virtually no resources for teaching about the IRS at the time, materials donated by Legacy of Hope (LOH) filled the kits. With respect to the loss of life and deaths due to the IRS, I relied on primary source documents that I got from visiting Library and Archives Canada. The primary source documents were ways for the students to see that these children actually existed and that they never stopped resisting attempts to make their lives better, even if it meant fleeing the schools and many of them, dying while trying. These primary source documents brought the horrors of so many of these schools to life!

Part 2 is where the students choose a particular Indian Residential School and then learn something about the Nation on whose land that School stood, and their contributions to Canadian society. The facilitator or teacher can proceed with doing this part in whatever way that best meets the learners’ needs. Often, it is the first time that students find out the name of the Original Peoples of the territory that they’re living on. What students find out after doing this part, is that no matter how hard the Canadian Government tried to “kill the Indian within the child,” they were not successful. Students are able to see—and feel—that Indigenous peoples and their cultures must be incredibly resilient to have survived an onslaught that started 500 years ago and continues to this day.

Part 3 is the first gesture of reconciliation. It is the part where students take what information they’ve gleaned from doing Parts 1 and 2, and use their skill/talent at communicating, through art, their feelings. They may feel sadness, anger, or they may not even know how to feel. They may feel hope, especially after finding out that Indigenous people are not a dying race—that there are many who are devoted to rebuilding their communities and relearning their languages…and know that there is a place for them in today’s society. But whatever it is they are feeling, they communicate it through art. They decorate a small wooden tile, each tile symbolically representative of the life of one child who died. This child’s memory is brought back to life.

Part 4 is where an Indian Residential School survivor (or a cultural worker or an IRS intergenerational survivor, or an Elder) comes to the school (or church or business) and answers questions, gives a teaching, or just talks to the students about life. Normally, if it’s a survivor, she will answer questions from the group. This is where the lived experiential knowledge is transmitted to the learners.

Part 5 is the social justice piece, the second gesture of reconciliation where settlers who are doing this project, “walk the talk.” This part is missing from most government promises. Our Canadian Government, under the leadership of Mr. Harper, said we were sorry. But we didn’t mean it, because there were NO actions undertaken that would prove that we (as a country) were sorry. Project of Heart provides a way for its learners to truly enact our citizenship responsibilities, putting empathy into action, in a respectful way. (We want to build trust. We want to walk with, not over, Aboriginal people.) It demonstrates to Indigenous people that non-Aboriginals are prepared to act in support of their resistance struggles, whether it be for justice for the horrific number of Indigenous women and girls who have gone missing or murdered, or the over-the-top numbers of Aboriginal kids who are in state care through various ministries of child and social services.

Part 6 is a relatively recent addition. It was instituted after the TRC National Event in Saskatchewan while under the care of Charlene Bearhead. One of the teachers in Saskatoon Catholic Board, Lynette Brossart, and her students, who had completed Project of Heart, were invited to come to the National Event. Lynette was very concerned to find out that there were IRS Survivors there who had never heard of Project of Heart and felt the need to do something about it. She came up with the idea of the learner groups making cards for the survivors. With this step, when there are events that Survivors are attending, they could be given a card with one Project of Heart tile attached to it, that would let them know that the learners cared about them, and that they were learning about their situation so that this would never happen again. It worked! Project of Heart had now come full circle.

4. What were the circumstances that led you to develop the Project of Heart?P1080462

There were a few ‘circumstances’ that led to the development of the project, but the easiest to explain is the fact that I couldn’t justify to my Grade 10 students why such a major part of our history was invisible. Young people will challenge their teachers if something doesn’t make sense, and in the only mandatory history course there is in Ontario high schools (contemporary Canadian History), there was a huge, absolutely gaping void. When a particularly inquiring student, Andrea, was finding evidence in her research that was creating a cognitive dissonance for her (it was the number of students that had perished while at the schools) she would not give up trying to figure out why this egregious part of history was so neglected. I had no choice but to be gently led by her curiosity, fast-becoming-anger. Our textbook dedicated two paragraphs (63 words) to the IRS era. Andrea couldn’t believe it, and I couldn’t either. So between her righteous anger and my integrity on the line as a history teacher, we decided that if the textbook couldn’t tell us the truth, we would find it and learn it on our own! And not only that, but also we’d help others whom we knew were as ignorant, maybe even more-so, than we were! So Andrea got to work, continuing her research and at the same time, building contacts in both the Aboriginal and settler community that could help her and her classmates make sense of their past. They all felt betrayed. They had grown up proud to be Canadian, and now that identity was being challenged in a major way.

In a nutshell, there were a lot of relationships made, guest speakers invited, (IRS survivors in the community), and activists who supported the students in this educational endeavour right from the start. The students did what was within their capability to do (write proposals so we could get some money to buy the wooden tiles, and pay honouraria for Aboriginal guests to come and talk to us) and I did my part. Project of Heart began with the first ceremony to honour the children who had died.

This is where the U of R comes into the story: While the students were busy making poster boards, learning, and going class-to-class to invite students in other rooms to participate in their teach-ins and guest speakers, I was taking Dr. Spooner’s Social Justice course. I Skyped into the evening class once per week from Ottawa (I was the box-head that spoke through a TV)!

The first Truth and Reconciliation Commission had been struck, and there was a call for proposals to do “Commemorative Projects.” I thought, “Why not? Let’s do what we’re doing in the class already, and just formalize it?” I decided to ask permission to do a Project of Heart proposal in place of the essay assignment for the class: putting what we were doing, and the purpose for what we were doing on paper was the only thing that was missing. Articulating the project would allow other groups to join the effort.

Dr. Spooner accepted the proposal as my project, and Project of Heart became formalized: It was envisioned, and its parts fully explained. Supporters came through to help us build the teaching module. The Canadian Union of Postal Workers supplied all the boxes, free of charge. The Legacy of Hope Foundation gifted us with thousands of dollars worth of resources with which we would fill the kits. I would purchase the small tiles and fill the kit with a pre-arranged number. And perhaps the most important thing—cost—I wanted potential users to know that they could experience this transformative learning, for less than the cost of textbook. The only caveat was that their heart had to be in it, and they had to be willing to engage the Indigenous community. Project of Heart would only work if it was centered on Indigenous people and their experiences.

So, it is these resources that I sent out to any learner group who wanted them. It was truly a labour of love. My partner created the website (www.projectofheart.ca) where groups who do the project could upload pictures and a report on their experiences doing Project of Heart. This part was essential because as schools and other learner groups reported on their experiences, they gave ideas and inspiration to other groups. I insured that faciliator directions were packed in the boxes and that an inventory of what was included in the kit was included.

5. Has the POH made it difficult for you to finish your M.Ed. studies?

Yes, doing POH has made it difficult to finish my M.Ed. I started my thesis work in 2011. I was interested in finding out what teachers’ perceptions were of doing Project of Heart. I had done all the interviews and when the tough work began, we had an illness in the family and I too became very over-stressed. My work suffered. And the longer one leaves the work, the more difficult it is to come back to it. I’m also older, and don’t have as much energy as I used to have. But I am trying to complete it before next spring. In the interim, the landscape has changed so much. When I’d started, materials on Indian Residential Schools were almost nil. Now there are lots! And POH has grown exponentially! So what was supposed to be “snapshot in time” has now become much more, and figuring out how it’s all going to come together is challenging.

___________________________________________________________

If you are teaching in Saskatchewan and interested in doing a Project of Heart with your class check out the Saskatchewan Project of Heart website: www.projectofheart.ca/sk Let us know if you are doing a Project of Heart so we can add a report to the site. (shuana.niessen@uregina.ca)

 

Kim Sadowsky, 2015 Governor General’s History Award for Excellence in Teaching

In October 2015, Kim Sadowsky, a teacher at Thom Collegiate and a Master’s of Education (Curriculum & Instruction) student in the Faculty of Education, University of Regina, was announced one of six winners of the 2015 Governor General’s History Award for Excellence in Teaching.

Recipients of this award are celebrated for their achievements in teaching Canadian history. Kim’s success is due to the design of her Native Studies class, which explores the question, “Who is a Treaty Person?” The class re-enacts Canadian history throughout the semester in a simulation.

The following is Kim’s description of the course:

“In Native Studies 10/30, students embark on a Treaty simulation that lasts the entire semester and takes them through an intricate role-play where students become the Indigenous peoples of Treaty #4 territory in what is now Saskatchewan. It is a living simulation where each day the students are playing out key events in Canada’s history and drawing their own conclusions about how the events of the past have influenced their place in Canada today as Treaty people. Their course goal is to create an inquiry-based or social-action project that demonstrates their knowledge of Canada’s Treaty relationships and encourages others to acknowledge that ‘We Are All Treaty People’ and as such have a responsibility in understanding and acknowledging our shared history of this land.

The semester begins with one simple question: “Who is a Treaty person?” From this question, our entire course unravels as students relive Canadian history from both an Indigenous and non-Indigenous perspective. The goal of the course is for students to begin to act on their understanding that being a Treaty person carries a massive responsibility in working towards decolonizing and reconciling Treaty relationships.

Students and even the teacher play the role of either the Indigenous peoples or the Government of Canada as they take part in the simulation. They begin with Treaty negotiations as the classroom is transformed into a historical time warp. Eventually, students are assigned reserves (certain areas of the classroom) in which they are to live. The Residential school, offices of the Indian Agents, and the Prime Ministers headquarters are also assigned locations in the classroom.

Throughout the semester, students experience day-to-day scenarios in which history is played out: Everything from the Indian Act, to attending residential school or being forced to leave their reserve because of Enfranchisement is re-enacted. Later in the semester, they visit ideas of revitalization and resource development on reserve, truth and reconciliation, and current events from society and politics.

Nearing the end of the course when the residential school is closed, students discuss the contemporary effects of inter-generational traumas and current social issues that have resulted from Canadian history. They explore their own family roots and stories, acknowledging their identities within this history. Students piece together how the past has impacted their understanding of the present, and as a result, they create hopeful healing and possibilities for the future. They acknowledge and celebrate the success and contributions of Canada’s Indigenous peoples to the building of Canada and society today.

During the simulation students gain knowledge and empathy as they navigate thru Canadian history and critically develop the skills to investigate the perspectives of various decisions that were made by the Canadian government and Indigenous people.

As much as possible, the content of the course is delivered in the oral tradition to honour Indigenous ways of knowing. Primary sources are used as much as possible if there are to be written documents. The students have access to elders, residential school survivors, local authors, politicians, and familial stories to really make this history live.

Students are connecting with material that makes it real and meaningful. It is one thing to learn about decolonizing from books… it is quite another thing to live it. That is what the simulation attempts to do.

The students’ final project is to create and show an exhibition of their learning. The outcome is to demonstrate their understanding of how Treaty relationships throughout Canadian history have shaped Canada today as well as acknowledge their roles as Treaty people. Whether class project or an individual work of art, writing, dance, or music, the results have been extraordinary. Not only have the students displayed internalization of knowledge, but also, as an educator, I have learned so much about Canadian history as a result of this simulation. The students have humbled me with their ability to become so completely passionate about history, moving learning far beyond the walls of the classroom!”

Kim graduated from the U of R, with a B.Ed. degree in 2001, with a major in Social Studies, and minor in Physical Education. In the program at that time, Kim says her experience was that, “the conversation around the impacts of colonization and Treaty relationships were totally absent.” She views this absence as reflecting a “systemic amnesia” that has existed in our society in regards to our shared history and the overall resistance to learning about it. What she is now learning about Indigenous history, along with her students, allows her, “to see that there were complete chapters in our shared history that had been left out.” Thus, when a colleague, David Benjoe, who was leaving Thom after paving the way for the Native Studies course, said to Kim, “You need to teach this course,” Kim felt unqualified. She says, “I was terrified. I knew nothing about Native Studies…and I was not Indigenous.” However, with David’s encouragement to “just be honest, respectful, kind and funny,” Kim agreed to teach the course.

With guidance from David and others, Kim found that being non-Indigenous opened up spaces for learning where students were the knowledge keepers in the classroom, not her. This allowed for opportunities to connect with families and community, moving learning beyond the classroom walls. In fact, she has since understood how important her role as a non-Indigenous person is in decolonizing her classroom through these learnings.

“To have been teaching for 15 years and to only now connect the dots of colonization, especially as a Social Studies/History teacher…It is shameful,” says Kim. This regret has been the driving force behind her course and how she teaches it.

Kim is passionate about “addressing the gaps that exist within our system when it comes to education and whose history is being taught and whose is being left out,” because she believes it “is integral when moving forward.”

As a M.Ed. student “surrounded by some pretty phenomenal professors at both the First Nations University and the University of Regina,” Kim is able to see that the Faculty of Education is also moving forward and addressing the gaps. She says, “The education program has changed a lot since I went through it. The U of R today is a different place and is engaging in authentic learning opportunities for future educators in a deeper understanding of the impacts of colonization and Treaty relationships and how this impacts the way we teach. The need to decolonize is now prevalent in the Education Faculty and gives much hope.”

Kim recognizes the importance and central role education has in the process of reconciliation and the hope of rebuilding the relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples. “We must realize that education had a key role in creating a legacy of hurt, pain, fear, racism, and so on, and as educators we have a massive responsibility in contributing to the healing process through education,” she says.

IMG_6958aweb
As part of the Building Our Home Fire project, students created commemorative tokens, which are exhibited in the hallway at Thom Collegiate. Photo credit: Shuana Niessen

Unlearning colonized history and decolonizing relationships involves not only the content that is taught but also how the content is taught. Kim says, “I cannot stress enough, the importance of teaching Indigenous and non-Indigenous people from an Indigenous perspective. Many of these stories, events and accounts of Canadian history have been completely left out. By digging deeper and challenging uncomfortable learning students are able to recognize circumstances, events and key moments in Canadian history where we have struggled together as Treaty people.”

Kim’s passion has ignited the interest of others at Thom Collegiate. This fall, over 25 classes from a variety of subject areas took part in the “Building Our Home Fire” project, which explored the legacy of the residential school system. Participating students and teachers found it to be “an incredible experience.”