Dr. JoLee Sasakamoose with the Wellness Wheel team is recipient of $49,982 from the Jim Pattison Children’s Research Grant program.
Guided by the Truth and Reconciliation Calls to Action, to provide a culturally secure space for knowledge exchange, mobilization, and co-creation, Dr. Mamata Pandey (SK Health Authority) and Dr. JoLee Sasakamoose (U of R) will be leading the study entitled “Okawimaw Kanosimowin (Mother’s Bundle): A Peer-Driven Approach to Improve Indigenous Maternal and Birth Outcomes.”
According to the Wellness Wheel Facebook Page, the researchers aim “to train Indigenous peers to advocate and assist Indigenous mothers through pregnancy, labour and delivery to postpartum stages. Another goal of the study is to create a mothers care bundle consisting of individual support links and services, essential mother and baby products and traditional medicines in partnership with the multi-disciplinary team.”
This story started with an invitation to do a play reading from my sister and playwright Alanis King, who had been invited by the University of Wisconsin (UWM) to write the script titled Sharing Wisconsin Sky.
The reading was part of a Greater Milwaukee Foundation Grant-supported collaboration between Peck School of the Arts, UWM Planetarium/Physics, and UWM’s Indigenous Language areas, including American Indian Studies and the Electa Quinney Institute. The project team was led by UWM faculty Robin Mello, Jean Creighton, Margaret Noodin, and Joelle Worm.
After a postponement due to the pandemic, the project began in late fall and the students were tasked with a writing assignment: to think of their experiences of the sky, the stars, and their relationship with the planet we are all living upon. Alanis was given the students’ writing contributions, which she then artfully wove together with her own written pieces and scenes that connected the stories together from the Anishnaabe worldview of our relationship to the cosmos.
Given the number of characters and Indigenous songs, I was invited by Alanis to take part as a reader. I in turn offered an invitation to the First Nations University’s Dr. Kathleen O’Reilly, who has a penchant for theatre. Both of us were thrilled to kick off our international acting debuts!
I was given the starring role of Giizhigokwe – Sky Woman (no pun intended) and to be a Beneshiisuk Singer of two Anishnaabe songs. Kathleen was invited to read the role of Eclipse.
The 11 readers, comprised of UWM’s project team, students, and guest readers, Kathleen and I, presented on Zoom on December 19, 2020. The reading took about 2 hours with sound checks and introductions. After the play, Alanis thanked everyone and remarked that, “The opportunity to hear the voices of the characters and their stories lifted from the page and brought to life by the talented cast is an excellent way as a playwright to envision possibilities for a future script workshop and eventual production.”
I really cherished learning another Anishnaabe word song and it reminded me of my love for music: Bin bin bindigenGchimiigwech gaabiizhaayan translates to mean ”come in, thank you for being here.” This whole experience that included many Anishnaabe songs and our language lifted my spirit.
Likewise, Kathleen says, “It was a wonderful experience acting and working with so many talented people. The play is beautifully written and merges Indigenous and non-Indigenous voices through spoken word and song. Reflecting on people’s memories and experiences of the sun, moon and stars, it is a reminder that no matter who we are, or where we are from, we all have looked to the skies with wonder and awe.”
This reading was a learning opportunity for us towards our future research collaboration between the University of Regina and First Nations University, a research project involving diverse storytelling on depictions of racism whereby we will be creating artistic vignettes on race issues. This research project is inspired by, and will be directed by, our new colleague and collaborator Dr. Taiwo Afolabi, a MAP faculty member at the University of Regina.
The play reading was one of our last community engagement initiatives of 2020 and was well worth the effort and time as well as an opportunity to help out where script readers were needed. To our good fortune we have been invited to a second reading in person on the real stage under the Wisconsin sky at the nearby Electa Quinney Institute, the Potawatami community school’s amphitheater.
If all our stars align, there will be more to come!
by. Dr. Anna-Leah King
Alanis King is an Ottawa-based Odawa artist originally from the Wikwemikong Unceded Indian Reserve. Her other playwriting credits include Bury, Morning Becomes Electa, Kawabin Elvis, Born Buffalo, Teacher, Kohkum’s Good Medicine Journey, Treaty Daze, Bye Bye Beneshe, Song of Hiawatha: An Anishnaabec Adaption, Order of Good Cheer, Gegwah, Lovechild, The Artshow, Heartdwellers, The Manitoulin Incident, Tommy Prince Story, and If Jesus Met Nanabush. Her published works include 3 Plays by Fifth House Publishers and coming soon The Manitoulin Incident written in three languages. She is the first Aboriginal woman to graduate from the National Theatre School of Canada.
Anna-Leah King (PhD) is an Associate Professor of Indigenous Education, Educational Core Studies and Language and Literacy Education and serves as the Chair of Indigenization at the University of Regina. King is originally from the Wikwemikong Unceded Indian Reserve.
Kathleen O’Reilly (PhD) is the Graduate Program Coordinator and Associate Professor Indigenous Education at First Nations University of Canada in Regina, Saskatchewan.
An inspiring student story! Because of the uncertain and troubled times of the pandemic, 3rd year Secondary Education student Brayden Larson wanted to spread some hope and positivity, so he decided to give 20% of his Boston Pizza job wage and all of his tips for the month of November to three local organizations: The 4 Life Foundation, First Steps Wellness Centre in Regina, and Regina Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Regina General General Hospital.
Using his social media to spread the word about what he was doing, where and when he would be working, and also information about the organizations he would be donating to, Brayden was able to raise $2053.35!
Brayden says, “The amount of joy, support, and encouragement I have received throughout this entire month is something I am beyond thankful and grateful for. Thank you to everyone that donated, tipped, or offered words of support and encouragement during this process. I thank you from the bottom of my heart. “
Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC)
Award Recipients for Insight Development Grants: 2019-20 Competition
Applicant: Gale Russell, University of Regina.
Title: Valued Kinds of Knowledge and Ways of Knowing in Mathematics Classrooms Funding: $69,732.00
Applicant: Christine Massing, University of Regina
Collaborator: Donalee Wennberg, Regina Open Door Society
Title: Co-constructing Intercultural Practice with Newcomer Families and Early Childhood Educators
Applicant: Joël Thibeault, University of Regina
Co-applicants: Isabelle Gauvin, Université du Québec à Montréal;
Roy Lyster, McGill University; Andrea Sterzuk, University of Regina.
Title: L’enseignement des verbes de mouvement en immersion française : création et mise à l’essai d’une séquence qui repose sur la didactique intégrée du français et de l’anglais. Funding: $26,489.00
Award Recipients for Partnership Grants: 2019-20 Competition
Applicant: Carla Peck, University of Alberta; Alan Sears, University of New Brunswick, Catherine Duquette and David Lefrançois, Université du Québec à Chicoutimi
Co-applicant: Michael Cappello, University of Regina (among 30 co-applicants)
Title: Thinking Historically for Canada’s Future. Funding: $2,500,000.00 over 7 years
Dr. Nick Forsberg, Professor of Health, Outdoor, Physical Education (HOPE), was the inaugural recipient of the Jack MacKenzie Career Service award, which was presented at the Saskatchewan Physical Education Association 2019 Conference,”Celebrating Diversity,” held May 9 and 10, 2019.
Saskatchewan Physical Education Association Conference is committed to supporting teachers of Physical Education throughout the province in their implementation of the curriculum. Celebrating Diversity will be structured for our delegates to engage in sessions that will help them meet the ever-changing, diverse needs of their students in physical education.
An honour to recognize Nick Forsberg as the inaugural recipient of the Jack MacKenzie Career Service Award winner at SPEA 2019. pic.twitter.com/cKlgGSq3Jn
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.”
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.”
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.
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.”
“I know in the long run it isn’t much at all, but in my way, in my journey to reconciliation, I can do this one thing.”
Aysha Yaqoob is no stranger to feelings of discomfort and dislocation. Born in Saudi Arabia and immigrating to Canada at the age of 2 with her parents, who were originally from Pakistan, Yaqoob’s early years were spent moving from place to place in the Greater Toronto Area. Then, in 2008, her family moved to Saskatoon, where Aysha attended school from Grade 7 to 12.
Attending 15 different schools during her K-12 years gave Aysha keen insight into feelings of marginality, which were amplified by being a visibly Muslim student. The lack of representation she saw in professional roles combined with her feelings of marginality sparked a desire in Aysha to work with marginal and at-risk youth, and influenced her decision to become an English teacher.
“In high school I had a great group of English teachers, and they hung out in a nice pack. It was there where I saw how dedicated they were and how fun teaching could be, and I observed their interest in teaching us not only about Shakespeare and poetry, but also about real world problems. However, there were no teachers that looked like me; all the teachers were White, and I wondered, ‘If I feel this, other students must feel this as well.’”
University gave Aysha a sense of control over her learning: “I had full autonomy of where I wanted to push my learning. I remember sitting in Mike Cappello’s ECS class, and seeing a White male talking so strongly about White privilege and what it means to oppress students of colour, and me being one of the very few students in our program who were of colour, and Muslim, visibly Muslim; it felt weird to see someone saying the words I could relate to.” Aysha wanted to learn more about representation: “After that, in every single class I took, I wanted to explore more into representation, and representing marginal and Indigenous students. All my profs were so willing to let me do assignments, I never had a prof who said you have to stick with my assignment. It was so great, I got to push my education and learning in areas that I was interested in. I was really able to shape my journey the way I wanted.”
These experiences changed how Aysha viewed education. She says, “It made me see that there are teachers who are trying to change the system right now, and trying to make students of colour feel represented and welcome. It was so nice.”
Up to that point, Aysha says she had been quiet and shy, but feeling supported at University helped her find and use her voice. “I remember that during the time when the Muslim ban was going on, I got up in front of my peers and let them know how I felt, how cornered and unsupported I felt. I invited them to a vigil at Victoria Park…Even talking about this gives me goose bumps. Just seeing all of the support I had from my peers and colleagues and professors made me want to speak up about these issues all the more. Since then I’ve been a non-stop machine; I don’t have an off button,” she says.
In 2017, as part of the Education Students’ Society executive, Aysha organized a Professional Development event called Meet-a-Muslim. She says, “I wanted to dispel misinformation about Muslims, so I invited everyone to come out and hear what it was like growing up Muslim, and about how the travel ban was affecting us. I wanted it to be an open safe space to ask questions and dialogue.” For people who are often misportrayed, Aysha explains “My go-to is to just ask questions. I’d rather you ask a billion questions than just assume.” In her quest for how to go about designing the event, Drs. Jennifer Tupper and Mike Cappello advised her to have an open dialogue with a panel. In hindsight, Aysha is glad about the panel format: “It was great that it was that way because a lot of topics came up that I wouldn’t have touched on because for me they were everyday things, even questions about why I wear the hijab and why my sister doesn’t, basic questions about Islam, and my view point on conflicts around the world. I’m not a token representative of all Muslims, so the panel gave a variety of viewpoints,” she says. The event was well-attended, one of the busiest ESS events that year, with 50-60 people attending. CBC covered the event and it was also live-streamed on Facebook.
“My parents look at me now, and they are surprised too, saying ‘You were never like this; you were so quiet and felt uncomfortable with public speaking.’ Now every chance I get, I’m out there.” Aysha credits her transformation as growing out of her experience of feeling supported by her peers and professors: It was “having that moment where I felt enough support to be vulnerable and express how I felt, and sharing that ‘your silence is hurting me,’ and getting their response in return,” she says.
Still quiet in some ways, Aysha likes to achieve extraordinary things while maintaining a low profile. Though she only walked the Faculty of Education’s halls for four years, Aysha managed to earn both a B.Ed. (English Language Arts and Social Studies) and a B. A. in English. Students typically take five years to finish a combined degree program, but Aysha, taking between six and eight classes per term, finished in four years. Aysha laughs, saying, “Nicole Glas, [Student Services Coordinator] asked her ‘Are you sure?’ I said ‘absolutely,’ but I got to the point where I wasn’t sure…I even had a course during internship!”
Pencils of Hope
As if squeezing a 5-year program into four years wasn’t enough, along with serving in the Education Students’ Society for two years (one as VP of Communications), and organizing Meet-a-Muslim night, Aysha maintained her own photography business, and founded a charitable organization called Pencils of Hope.
It was during her second term of University that a plan to support marginalized youth formed in her mind: “The principal from Chief Kahkewistahaw Community School, came in to our class to talk about schooling and education and how it is important for U of R grads to go out on reserves and experience teaching there. I chatted with him later about funding, and learned that federal funding on reserves, and schools on reserves, is significantly less than funding for schools off reserves. I had thought all schools were the same! I remember going home to my parents and talking about it: ‘I want to do something; already there’s such a drastic change between conditions on and off reserves. And all the discrimination that goes on…it doesn’t seem right that in education, especially,—we say Canada has such great education and equal access to education but it doesn’t seem like it.’ So, my parents asked me what I wanted to do. I said ‘I don’t know, but I want to do something.’ Over breakfast, we talked about names, and I thought ‘Pencils of Hope’ was a good name and my dad said, ‘What do you want to do with that?’ I talked to the principal again, and I said, ‘Why don’t I try this? I’m a photographer by hobby. I’ll donate everything I make through photography to this cause. If I can get enough funds, will you accept my gift of supplies to this school?’ I tried it out my first year and it worked out really well.”
Since then the organization has “snowballed,” says Aysha. Sponsors started making small donations. A committee was formed. For the first three years, Pencils of Hope partnered with one school each year. But this year, the committee decided to partner with four schools. “Four schools was a huge difference. We received a grant from Taking it Global, which offered a rising youth grant.”
Donations and, therefore, spending has increased substantially over the four years of existence. The first year the group spent $750 on supplies and this year they spent over $4000, with carry over for next year. Pencils of Hope has made some changes to their vision as well: “This year we’ve changed our vision to match the Calls to Action. So from here on out we made a vow to partner with at least one school on a reserve.” The group is also making supplies available to individual students who may not be in a school that is in partnership with Pencils of Hope.
For Aysha, this work has been part of her journey toward reconciliation. “I know in the long run it isn’t much at all, but in my way, in my journey to reconciliation, I can do this one thing.”
Doing this project in a good way, a humble way, has been one of Aysha’s goals: “When we talk about Pencils of Hope, I don’t like to be called the founder. It is still a journey, still a process; I’m still learning, of course. Meeting with different elders and profs and being able to exchange knowledge, learn indigenous ways of knowing and culture, and how to go about this in a more humble way, it’s been very uncomfortable, but it’s been a great kind of uncomfortable…It’s not learning if it’s not uncomfortable.”
Aysha has learned many things along her journey, but one thing stands out in her mind, “It’s hard doing it alone, not fun to do it alone.” She advises others who would like to do something similar to, “Get many people involved and see what they will do.”
Now a first-year teacher at Balfour Collegiate, Aysha plans to carry on with the work of Pencils of Hope, with the support of her committee, family and community. “I anticipate it is going to be busy, but to me that is a good thing, to me that means more schools and more partnerships, and more relationships—expanding.”
By Shuana Niessen
The Lieutenant Governor of Saskatchewan Tom Molloy presented the Prairieaction Foundation Youth Leadership Award to the fYrefly in Schools program for the second year in a row! Congratulations to Dr James McNinch, Suzy Yim & Kyla Christiansen for your work in promoting inclusion and acceptance.