Category: Decolonization

Following in their footsteps

Dr. Anna-Leah King

The footsteps of ancestors, family, and mentors have guided Dr. Anna-Leah King in her life-journey. Anna-Leah is Anishnaabe, an Odawa on her father’s side, the late Dr. Cecil King, and a Pottawatomii on her mother’s side, the late Virginia (Pitawanakwat) King. The name stories behind these nations are outlined in Anna-Leah’s father’s recent memoir, The Boy From Buzwah: A Life in Indian Education: Cecil wrote, “My grandfather maintained that in the beginning, there were three biological brothers—Odawa, Pottawatomii, and Ojibwe. Over the years, they went their separate ways, and as a result, three separate nations were formed—the Ojibwek, the Odawak, and the Potawatamiik,” called the “Confederacy of Three Fires—the Anishnaabeg,” a word which means, “I am a person of good intent or I am a person of worth” (pp. 1–3). These stories form the core of Anna-Leah’s identity.

Like her parents, Anna-Leah spent her early years on Manitoulin Island (Island of the Great Spirit) in Northern Ontario, surrounded by family, culture, Ojibwe language, and history. Her early experiences have lingered and wafted throughout her journey, like campfire smoke in a sand plain forest, imprinting her worldview.

Anna-Leah’s father was a major influence in her life. He blazed the trail for many of the professional choices she has made. Even though teachers are part of her blood line—her great grandmother and father were teachers—Anna-Leah didn’t like school, and didn’t see herself becoming a teacher: “I never saw myself as a teacher. When I was in my younger grades I swore to God I would never be a teacher. I found schools unwelcoming places, aesthetically dead places, with ugly muddy green and orange paint,” says Anna-Leah.

Aesthetics aside, Anna-Leah’s early experiences with some teachers were not positive either. She recalls a confusing and frightening experience in kindergarten, when she held out her hand for a reward and was instead strapped with a leather strap by her teacher.

Despite her dislike of school, Anna-Leah’s father encouraged her to become a teacher. And once, when he returned from one of his many trips, he brought Anna-Leah a miniature brief case. “It was just like his. That was the first seed planted, that when I grew up, I could be like my dad,” she recalls.

In 1969, when Anna-Leah was 6, her Dad took a job in Ottawa, where Anna-Leah spent the remaining years of her childhood. But in 1971, when her father moved two provinces west, to Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Anna-Leah determined she would follow in his footsteps: “I couldn’t wait to reunite with my dad some way, somehow.”

For her final year of high school, she (along with her sister Alanis) moved to Saskatoon to be with her father. Following high school, Anna-Leah decided to become a teacher and finished her teaching certificate in 1989 through the Indian Teachers Education Program (ITEP) at the University of Saskatchewan, where her father had been the founding director. Despite her early objections, she had become a teacher, like her dad. But the trail didn’t stop there.

Cecil was an Indigenous educator for more than 60 years. He had a tremendous impact on Indigenous education in Saskatchewan and impacted the lives of the many students he taught. His career took him from teacher, to principal, to professor, and into multiple leadership roles provincially and across Canada, mostly within the university context.

Cecil King’s Legacy: An Era of Indian Control of Indian Education
During the 60s, the political and social environment was developing into a storm following the adoption of a forced integration/assimilation policy, which threatened the continuation of Indigenous languages and culture. In his memoir, Cecil (2022) wrote, the Federal Government’s “Department of Indian Affairs was busy transferring education to local school boards…negotiating joint school agreements without the approval of individual First Nations” (p. 209). This colonizing policy resulted in more standardized and irrelevant curriculum and content in Indigenous schools that devalued and disregarded Indigenous worldviews and local Indigenous involvement. Cecil regarded the policy as responsible for the problem of, “Indian children achiev[ing] only limited education characterized by low education achievement rates, high failure rates, so called age-grade retardation and early school leaving” (p. 222). He maintained that pride in one’s identity was critical to success in life and education.

Cecil grew up in a bilingual, bicultural, multigenerational home where English was the only language spoken. His grandparents who raised him had been convinced by their Catholic schooling that English was the only path to success, and should be the language spoken at home. He had a well-rounded education at home: His grandmother who had been trained as a Victorian-era teacher, was a strict disciplinarian; his grandfather was a talented handyman, who taught Cecil how to do things but also transferred the Odawa history and worldview to Cecil; and Kohkwehns was his emotional support, who, Cecil says, “listened to me and taught me how to be a ‘good’ Odawa” (p. 323).

From Grades 1 to 8, Cecil was taught by First Nation teachers at the Buzwah Indian Day school and he learned to speak Ojibwe at school from his peers. He excelled at his studies: “At school we learned and communicated in English, and although what we read was foreign to us, we learned. … We didn’t read about First Nations history or heroes, but we lived among First Nations people and learned that part of our education from them” (p. 51).

When he had finished Grade 8, Cecil had to leave his home and community to attend a residential high school, St. Charles Garnier Residential School in Spanish, Ontario. Cecil, along with three of his peers, passed the entrance exams, and bid goodbye to their families and friends. Ominous black buses arrived each year to take the children to residential school. Cecil had mixed emotions about going, because he was leaving behind his family (and beloved Kohkwehns) and community and because he knew from experience that sometimes kids didn’t return home from residential school, but he was also excited and proud to be continuing his education.

At Garnier, he again excelled in his studies, despite being told that Indigenous culture was “quaint” and that students should not expect to rise to the pious level of the French Jesuits who taught them. Students developed a subculture where Cecil continued to learn and practice Ojibwe, and where they traded off items from their assigned work areas. “Recalling these things, I realize that this was our world. We created a culture within the institution’s culture. We found a way to circumvent the forces that dominated,” (p. 131) wrote Cecil. Cecil was valedictorian when he graduated in 1953.

After high school, Cecil took a 6-week course in order to take a teaching position at West Bay School on Manitoulin Island. The post-war baby boom was creating a demand for teachers. In 1954, Cecil married Virginia, whom he had met at residential school. He also took a second 6-week course and took another teaching position at Northwest Bay. At this stage in his career, he already had a drive to take on a principal role. The following year, he enrolled at North Bay Teachers’ College and became a qualified teacher by 1957, after which he was hired as a principal at Dokis Bay Indian Day School.

Cecil worked throughout his career to take back control of Indian education. He described this work as complex, involving the development of curriculum, teaching materials, lessons, and workbooks for teaching Ojibwe. Ojibwe teachers needed to agree on how the language would be written. Cecil wrote, “It became apparent that standardizing the written Ojibwe language was a necessary step in establishing a province-wide Ojibwe language teaching program. Here we ran into the debate over the appropriate orthography. Now we realized that to teach the language in the school we needed to have written language and material for the children to read. … Success in teaching Native languages in schools would be dependent on a teacher-training program specifically for teachers of Indian languages” (p. 182).

Working together with his cousin Mary Lou Fox-Radulovich, the two were successful at getting an Ojibwe language program approved for teaching in elementary schools. Trent University began offering a Teaching Ojibwe in Schools course that Cecil taught in 1970, delivering the course to non-Indigenous students.
There he met Dr. Art Blue who encouraged Cecil to enter full-time study at the University of Saskatchewan through the Indian and Northern Education Program (INEP). The decision was pivotal: “When I made the decision to go to Saskatchewan, I did not know that it was going to have a profound impact on my life” (p. 202).

The 1973 adoption of the National Indian Brotherhood policy statement on Indian control of Indian education, “sounded the death knell for the policy of forced integration policy and led to the establishment of on-reserve schools,” (Cuthand, 2013). At the same time, Cecil’s career was taking a dramatic turn—in his words, he was “joining the revolution” (p. 201). Little did he know that Rodney Soonias of Red Pheasant First Nation, who was the director of the Saskatchewan Indian Cultural College (SICC), had selected Cecil to be the founding director of the ITEP: “The new task was to design, develop and implement a program that produced Indian teachers who received the same credentials as other Saskatchewan teachers but who were equipped to change the education of Indian children in the province in accord with the wishes of the chiefs, communities, and parents while preparing children for their place in society” (p. 209). His decision to stay in Saskatchewan and take on this role came at a great personal cost: the permanent separation between him and Virginia. By that time, they had five children.

As director, he travelled to various Cree communities in Saskatchewan to establish pilot Cree language projects. Others were also establishing Indigenous language programs. Cecil wrote, “Everyone …was on side and working towards the same goal: to take control of education for First Nations people in Saskatchewan. The power, the force, the energy that was released was incredible” (p. 224).

After finishing his B.Ed. (’73) and M.Ed. (’75), Cecil began his PhD journey at the University of Calgary. In 1983, he was the first Indigenous Canadian to receive his PhD from the University of Calgary. During the 1980s, he was head of the Indian and Northern Education Program, which positioned him as a faculty member in the College of Education at the University of Saskatchewan. Cecil served on multiple dissertation committees at multiple universities including the University of Regina. After the program he headed was folded into the Foundations department and Cecil was denied promotion, he left the University of Saskatchewan and took a full professorship at Queen’s University where he became the founding director of the Aboriginal Education Program.

Looking back to Cecil’s 1953 valedictorian speech, the seeds of the vision that would characterize his career can be seen: Cecil said, “We all realize how advantageous it would be to have our own teachers, lawyers, doctors and politicians, men and women who will work hand in hand with those who now are working for our rights and prosperity. We need men and women who will be exemplary leaders in our own communities …men and women of vision, initiative and energy” (p. 138). Cecil himself became that exemplary leader, and a man of vision, initiative and energy. He cleared the trail for many who would also follow in his footsteps.

When Cecil passed away May 4, 2022, Doug Cuthand eloquently wrote, “At 90 years of age, the final school bell rang and he began his journey to the next world. King may have moved on, but his work lives on in the hundreds of teachers whose lives he touched”.

Dr. Michael Tymchak, former dean in the Faculty of Education at the University of Regina, and former director of the Northern Teacher Education Program (NORTEP) in La Ronge, says, “Cecil was a leader in Indigenous Education here in Saskatchewan, and across Canada. As Director of ITEP he broke trail for many other First Nation educators to follow. Cecil understood the corrosive impact of colonialism but his life spoke most eloquently to vision-casting and the creation of educational opportunities for First Nation students. He was a believer in self-determination and an advocate for the vital importance of preserving Indigenous languages and culture. Strong in his own Anishnaabe identity, he was unafraid of strategic ‘co-determination.’ Cecil knew that Indigenous peoples and their culture(s) had much to offer the larger society and he dedicated his life to manifesting this conviction.”

Dr. Tymchak continues, saying, “Cecil provided a role model for others to follow and was unfailingly supportive of the establishment of other Indigenous teacher education programs. During my years at NORTEP, Cecil offered enthusiastic encouragement, came up to La Ronge to teach courses and spoke to significant gatherings, such as the annual Graduation Ceremony. He was unfailingly eloquent and inspiring, a statesman and later a highly respected Elder. His passing leaves a void, but his legacy of accomplishments and the memories he leaves of kindness, educational leadership, and collegial friendship will endure as long as the sun shines and the rivers flow.”

Anna-Leah’s career path mirrors many of her father’s footsteps: She, too, chose to further her education with a Master’s degree and then her PhD (2016), which focused on reclamation of Anishnaabe song and drum in education. She was a recipient of the University of Alberta Human Rights Education Recognition Award in 2013. She served as the Co-Director of the Aboriginal Teacher Education Program (ATEP) at the University of Alberta from 2008 to 2010. And she now works as a professor of Indigenous education and core studies and has been serving as the Faculty of Education Chair of Indigenization at the University of Regina for the past several years.

Virginia King’s Legacy
While it is clear that Anna-Leah has followed in her father’s rather large footsteps, she also follows in her mother’s less visible but no-less-valuable footsteps. For instance, Anna-Leah recalls 3 days of cooking massive pots of soup and making heaps of sandwiches at her friend’s granddaughter’s funeral and wake. “I thought of my mom, she would have done the same thing. My mom was always bringing soup to the friendship center in her down time,” says Anna-Leah.

Throughout her career, Virginia worked with Indian Affairs, eventually working her way to the role of director, with signing authority on treaty cards. “My mom was really proud. When I was between about 6 or 7, I went to Parliament Hill and did a march with her. The night before, we were making a placard and I was to write: ‘Indian women are women, too.’ I thought how can people think Indigenous women aren’t women, too? Bizarre! I didn’t have that feeling myself. I always felt accepted, and there wasn’t a big cultural gap. We proudly marched. My mom wasn’t brave enough, but she made me hold the sign. And I knew there was activism to do,” says Anna-Leah.

As a residential school survivor, Virginia didn’t talk much about her experience until later in life, but, “she did realize the wrong that residential school did in trying to snuff out the language and the culture,” says Anna-Leah.

Though her parents could speak Ojibwe, they did not pass the language on to their children. Anna-Leah says, “My mom and dad had a conversation about not teaching us the language so we would be successful at school because my dad was seeing the kids come in to school and struggle and struggle and then get turned off and eventually drop out because they were always behind.”

Other Teacher/Mentors
Another woman was influential in Anna-Leah’s life, her auntie, the late Mary Lou Fox-Radulovich, a member of M’Chigeeng (West Bay) First Nation and founding director of the Ojibwe Cultural Foundation, an organization formed to preserve Ojibwe, Odawa, and Pottawatomii Nations’ culture and language. Mary Lou was a teacher and language activist who also inspired, supported and worked alongside Cecil King. Anna-Leah had the privilege of spending a summer with Mary Lou at the Foundation.
“My dad must have asked if she could take me on as a summer student. I got to go there, and live with my grandmother at Wikwemikong. I would travel 45 minutes to M’Chigeeng each day. When I got there, Mary Lou came and gave me a warm hug and a kiss. I think the first day we went sweetgrass picking, and then we braided the grass. She joined us in braiding, and talked about how beautiful it was to be outside, to enjoy the wind, and to braid sweetgrass in the company of other women. I think ancestral memory was part of that day for her. I felt in an indirect way she was teaching us the power of that exercise. I really loved that. I felt in tune immediately with the practice and what we were doing,” recalls Anna-Leah.

The rest of the summer was spent in preparation for an Elder’s conference. The braids they had made were for the Elders. Anna-Leah says, “I was honoured to be making those braids for the Elders. Mary Lou was connected to Elders all over Canada, because she was trying to do something about the languages and cultures.”

Anna-Leah continues, “I learned a lot from her and the girls I worked with. I learned where the sweet grass grows. I learned to wear rubber boots, to not be afraid of anything that might be there. I learned smudging, and how to clean a porcupine with my bare hands. Delia Bebonang, an extraordinary quilt maker from M’chigeeng First Nation was there, so when the porcupine arrived, I worked with her. She showed me and I just followed and that’s what we did all day until we got the quills off. That was an awesome summer.”

At her first teaching job as the art teacher at Joe Duquette High School in Saskatoon, Anna-Leah met another teacher/mentor, the late Bowser Poochay from Yellowquill First Nation. Bowser recognized that they “were the same people,” honouring the braided ethnicity of the Anishnaabe and the Saulteaux peoples, which warmed Anna-Leah’s heart. The late Bowser and Maggie, his partner, adopted Anna-Leah and her daughter Tanis into their family, and in time they were also adopted into the community of Yellowquill, where she and Tanis participated in seasonal ceremonies.

Also during her time at Joe Duquette, Anna-Leah became friends with the late Elder Laura Wasacase, who also became her mentor. “An Elder, I had seen her here and there, and she smiled at me and said ‘Good morning.’ I was a little bit shy because I knew she wanted to converse with me. We became friends. Laura and her sister were instrumental in the formation of FNUC. She was inspirational. And open. She made me look up and smile and feel significant in the world. It’s such a cold place in the world. I try to be that way with younger people, I try to connect.”

Anna-Leah’s parents and mentors guided her as she navigated her way to the career in Indigenous Education that she has followed. Her father broke the trail.

Cecil King wrote that he had encountered many barriers in his career but because of his efforts, Anna-Leah has not experienced those same barriers. She says, “With all of his diplomatic movement and conversations and connections and how he acted in diplomacy, he created good positive relationships, and he had the backing of Indigenous people who needed somebody like him to do negotiations at the institutions. I think that he made White people Indian friendly.”

Anna-Leah continues, “He had to tolerate a lot—people weren’t as open, especially back then. He had a lot of hard people to deal with, to change their minds, to get them to accept, to not be fearful of preserving our language and culture. I know that he had good relationships. At U of S they said, ‘Your father walks on water.’ What they meant was that his words were profound to them. He was an orator, and University was a place where his oratory was accepted and appreciated. He would sooner speak something than write it. He loved giving a good oratory and he would always start his speech with his grandfather’s prayer and end with ‘Mii maanda didabaajimowin’ (These are my words) spoken in the language.”

Carrying Their Legacies Forward for Future Generations
Cultural and language revitalization, participating in ceremony, and building relationships through community involvement and service outweigh the academic, paper-writing side of Anna-Leah. Her current research projects reflect her interest in cultural reclamation. She also has a passion for Indigenous visual art, which has inspired her to develop a master’s course in Indigenous art. Becoming an artist herself is an as-of-yet unexplored path. She has, however, collected some art teachers, having taken a course with Degen Lindner (daughter of Artist Ernest Lindner) and Mina Forsyth, another renowned artist, and Lois Simmie, a watercolour artist, as well as taking a portraiture class. Anna-Leah may yet explore this path in when she retires.

As a parent, Anna-Leah has adopted her parents’ model of parenting. Her father was influenced most by his Kohkwehns, whom, he says, “taught me to encounter the world with joy and wonder. She taught me so many things by letting me experience that world, in contrast to the way Mama taught” (p. 160). Anna-Leah says, “I think about my parents and the subtle way they taught me—not a direct pedantic approach, more the suggestion of things, so I would come to the right conclusion. My dad was a mentor and a teacher, but not necessarily in a spoken way. One principle I value is to be the model for the kids, and hope that they will pick that up. That’s important.”

In a letter to her daughter Tanis, included in her dissertation, Anna-Leah described her understanding of her role in shaping future generations: She wrote, “Ever since you were born, I realized my reason to be. I had one important job and that was to see to your well-being and I can say I did my best. I may not have always been perfect but I sure did my best. You are my anchor in bringing me back to my purpose which is to see that you are loved and know you are loved. I always put your needs before my own as my parents taught me. And so I write this letter to once again centre myself as I look forward with you in mind to the task at hand in thinking about our future generations.”

Returning once again to her father Cecil’s valedictorian speech, about the advantage of having Indigenous teachers, lawyers, doctors … and the need for leaders, Anna-Leah is also fulfilling her father’s youthful vision: She is a teacher, professor and leader and her daughter Tanis is also following in their footsteps, having benefited from the trail her grandfather blazed, and will complete her training as a physician on May 24, 2023.

Footsteps left by her ancestors, such as the Anishnaabe seven grandfather teachings of love, respect, bravery, truth, honesty, humility and wisdom, and the oral traditions, songs and stories passed on from her grandparents to her parents have also served to guide Anna-Leah as she seeks to live inter-relationally, in honouring the earth and its creatures and all those who have gone before her and those who will come after her.

Anna-Leah says, “We always have one foot in the past, as that defines who we are, and one in the present, moving forward to the future. Ekosi! Mii maanda didabaajimowin.”

Whisperings of the Land Indigenous Speaker Series presentation

The Whisperings of the Land Indigenous Speaker Series invites you to a presentation by Dr. Kevin Lewis:

kâ-nêyâsihk mihkiwahpa Centre of Excellence- Cree Language Immersion Land Based Program

April 6, 2023
11:00 a.m. CST via Zoom

Register at

What would localized indigenous pedagogy look like? This session will cover topics of core subjects, projects, seasonal and year-round activities that the Immersion School has been piloting since 2018. Language learning assessments will be discussed as well as policy development. This will be a good look at developing our languages within the existing frameworks and how we can engage our communities to find out what is important for schools to teach. There will be time for Qs & As in this session.

Speaker bio:
Dr. Kevin wâsakâyâsiw Lewis is a nêhiyaw (Plains Cree) instructor, researcher, and writer. For the past 21 years, Dr. Lewis has been working with community schools in promoting land and language-based education and is founder of kâniyâsihk Culture Camps (, a non-profit organization focused on holistic community well-being and co-developer of Land-Based Cree Immersion School kâ-nêyâsihk mîkiwâhpa. Dr. Lewis is from Ministikwan Lake Cree Nation in Treaty 6 Territory.

The Gabriel Dumont Research Chair presentation

The Gabriel Dumont Research Chair in Michif/Métis Education invites you to talk by Dr. Darryl Leroux.
Family Lore as Settler Colonial Fantasy: The Role of Trauma
Wednesday, April 5th, 2023 at 4:00 pm.
ED 228 (TPC)
Education Building
University of Regina
Family lore is a tricky concept to define — not outright lies, but not factual either, it’s a form of intergenerational communication that imagines historical events and relations in a manner that positions a given family as having unique customs or values. In their creation of lore, families often circulate stories about overcoming adversity and injustice, an apparent strategy to downplay more troubling stories linked to their social advantage or power. One common form of family lore for white Canadians involves creating Indigenous ancestry and identity where it didn’t exist in the first place. This presentation is part of a wider research study that examines the circulation of family lore about indigeneity in white settler families. The focus here will be on 5-10 public statements released since 2017 by high-profile individuals exposed by the media as making false claims to an Indigenous identity. These statements are quickly becoming a new genre of writing — one that exposes the intimate settler-colonial fantasies that propel the reconciliation era forward.
Presenter Bio:
Darryl Leroux is currently Visiting Professor of Sociology at the University of Ottawa. Starting May 1st, he’ll be an Associate Professor of Political Studies at the University of Ottawa. His book Distorted Descent: White Claims to Indigenous Identity, published in 2019, was selected as one of the University of Manitoba Press’s top ten books of the 2010s. His current academic work disentangles how family lore propels white settlers to falsely claim Indigenous identities. Otherwise, he can often be seen fishing on a backcountry lake or stream.


Talking about gender and sexual diversity in education

As part of our Faculty’s efforts to further develop a critical consciousness of, and stand in solidarity with, those who have been marginalized by gender and sexual diversity (GSD) in the field of education and higher education, in this article a diverse group of panelists—queer, trans, nonbinary, and cis het—all devoted to the work and research of GSD, talk about about the current challenges; personal and professional experiences that have motivated them to do GSD work; and how universities, faculties, professors, school divisions, and teachers can better support those marginalized by gender and sexual diversity.

Meet the Speakers

Jacq Brasseur (BSW’13, RSW’15, MEd’21) is the CEO and Principal Consultant at Ivy + Dean Consulting, a firm they founded to “bring social justice and equity into the non-profit boardroom.” In this role, they provide Professional Development (PD) for teachers and schools for improving 2SLGBTQ+ competency. Most recently, Jacq has been focusing on working with faith-based schools in Saskatchewan, with various Catholic districts as well as some private schools. As a proud member of the Regina Catholic School’s GSD Committee, Jacq is working with the district, as they endeavour to support 2SLGBTQ+ kids.

“While I have found this work challenging, I have also found it incredibly rewarding—there are queer and trans students (and teachers!) in Christian and Catholic schools in Saskatchewan, and they deserve to feel supported and affirmed in their whole selves,” says Jacq.

When Jacq moved to Regina in 2017, they took on the role of Executive Director for the UR Pride Centre. Among many other responsibilities, this role involved providing PD training for teachers and educators in Southern Saskatchewan schools. They also oversaw the transition of Camp fYrefly and fYrefly in Schools programs from the University of Regina to the UR Pride Centre. (Read about their Distinguished Alumni Award for Humanitarian and Community Service Award.)

Before moving to Regina, Jacq lived in Yellowknife, NT, where they co-founded what is now the Northern Mosaic Network, a 2SLGBTQ+ human service agency in Yellowknife, NT. Jacq worked closely with NT schools, educators, and the Ministry of Education to create more inclusive spaces.

Kyla Christiansen (BEd’91, MEd’14) is currently the Coordinator of Comprehensive School Community Health for Good Spirit School Division and Coordinator of Mental Health and Diversity for Regina Public Schools. Kyla has also served in many roles throughout her career, such as high school administrator, provincial school coordinator for fYrefly, Saskatchewan, GSA Summit coordinator, sessional lecturer for the Faculty of Education, and gender and sexual diversity consultant for five Saskatchewan School Divisions.

Dr. James McNinch (professor emeritus) is currently a consultant with the Saskatchewan School Board Association on a project about parent/teacher home visits. He is also conducting PD for Prairie Spirit School Division administrators and board members in the area of gender and sexual diversity.

During his 20-year career with the Faculty of Education, James served in a variety of roles: dean, associate dean, director of the Professional Development and Field Experiences office, director of the Teaching Development Centre, and Director of SIDRU (the Faculty’s research unit), as well as professor of professional studies. Particularly memorable was the anthology James co-edited and contributed to, entitled, I Could Not Speak My Heart: Education and Social Justice for Gay and Lesbian Youth (2004). Also that year, James created and taught a course on school and sexual (and gender) identities (EFDN 306). “This course continues to be an elective and has hopefully been updated to keep up with this dynamic field of teaching, learning, and research,” says James.

Camp fYrefly, a 4-day annual retreat that welcomes teens and young adults who identify as 2SLGBTQA+, has been an important part of James’ work over the years. As dean, he used his influence to help bring Camp fYrefly to Saskatchewan. James was program co-ordinator for Camp fYrefly and the fYrefly in Schools programs from 2016-2018 and he is still helping with fYrefly: “This year the camp returned to Regina as a live event after being online for the past 2 COVID-19 years. There were 57 campers and more than half of them self-identified as being gender fluid or non-binary. This is further proof that gender as a marker of identity is beginning to fade. It has already been 5 1/2 years since Parliament passed a bill (first proposed in 2005!!) protecting the rights of transgender and other gender diverse individuals,” says James.

Dr. Fritz Pino is an assistant professor in the Faculty of Social Work. Fritz says her “research and community work have always been centred on exploring the experiences of queer and trans communities, specifically queer and trans sexualities and identities that intersect with race, age, class, and migration.” All of Fritz’s current projects are also centred on queer and trans lives. A few examples include the following: Fritz is conducting interviews to document the lived experiences of queer and trans Filipino immigrants to assess how being a racialized queer or trans intersects with migration and settlement in the prairies. Another project involves exploring the concept of social support of 2SLGBTQ+ faculty and staff at the University of Regina to contribute to the development of EDI related programs. Fritz is working on a manuscript about global transfeminisms, and the experiences of Filipino trans women during COVID-19 pandemic. She is also developing a graduate level course called Critical Social Work Practice with 2SLGBTQ+ communities, to be taught Winter 2024 with the Faculty of Social Work. Another area of her research involves 2SLGBTQ+ poverty and healthcare services.

Dr. Christie Schultz is currently the dean of the Centre for Continuing Education and an associate professor in the Faculty of Education. Since the early 2000s, Christie has participated in panel conversations, primarily in university classrooms, that have focused on gender and sexual diversity. In her work as a professional and an academic serving in a leadership role at the University, Christie works on being visible. “I think it is important to be who I am at work, to be a positive example of an out queer woman, especially for the next generation of scholars and leaders in higher education,” she says.

Dr. j wallace skelton is an assistant professor in queer studies in education. j has been addressing matters of sexual orientation and gender identity for 20 years, though as a queer and trans person, j has been engaging in systems of education for much longer. j’s work has included supporting and training students and staff teams, policy writing, research, piloting a high school gender course, conference organizing, planning for organizational change, mentoring teachers, running groups for trans and nonbinary children, human rights investigations, and assessing external partnerships.

j’s master’s thesis examined trans and nonbinary characters in children’s picture books. The findings led j to launch a press to publish the books that j and j’s husband wanted to see. With the understanding of the importance of listening to children and believing them, j’s PhD research invited gender independent and trans, nonbinary (GIaNT) children to show and tell what learning would be like if they were able to create it.

As a new faculty member, j says, “I’m currently very engaged in thinking about what it might mean for us to be a Faculty that celebrates sexual and gender diversity, and how to do that. There is a lot of faculty support for this, and I’m doing it with others, and it feels like an exciting place of possibility. We’ve not provided the support people need; we’ve not embedded 2SLGBTQA+ content across our curriculum, but we can, and we need to.”

What experiences brought you to the work and research of gender and sexual diversity? What was the need you were seeing or experiencing?

Fritz: I identify as trans woman of colour, born and raised in the Philippines. My work is connected and informed by my embodied social location and subject position. There is still a great need to increase trans literacy, and to develop scholarly, pedagogic, and policy interventions that address queer and trans issues of marginalization, invisibility/hypervisibility, oppression, and discrimination.

Christie: When I was an undergraduate student, seeing and learning from queer professors who I could admire made a big difference in my young adult life. Because of these professors, I could begin to imagine myself as both queer and professional—and professional in queer ways. (I know this wouldn’t have been important for everyone, but it was important to me in my young adult life.) In very subtle ways, they taught me I could be hopeful and I could be myself.

Kyla: As a rural school educator and administrator, I witnessed the impact of heternormativity, homophobia, and transphobia on individual students and my school community as a whole. Early in my career, I met people in both personal and professional capacities whose lived experiences were quite different from my own, and I realized just how extremely privileged I was because of “who I was and who I loved.” It became obvious to me that the moral and ethical imperative was to create spaces where my students (and staff) felt protected, respected, and included. In my educational career, I also worked for the provincial government. During that time, it became more about the “politicizing” of identities and I determined to become more involved in advocacy work. When I engaged in graduate work at the U of R, my commitment and passion for this work deepened, and I have been doing what I call “behind the scenes” advocacy work since—to create safer spaces where students and families voices can be heard.

James: As a man who came out later in life with the realization of my own sexual orientation and attraction to men, my journey out of the closet was an intense and sometimes painful process and it made me appreciate larger issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion. I was working with SUNTEP and the Gabriel Dumont Institute at the time and the struggles of the Métis, their unique history of marginalization, their ability to “see with both eyes,” and “to live in two worlds” and to act as intermediaries and go-betweens between two racialized solitudes, all of this was a huge inspiration to me. It made my “issues” seem trivial in comparison.

Jacq: I came out to my family and classmates when I was 11 years old—over 20 years ago, when children that young weren’t really as open as they are now. I lived and learned in a Catholic education context, and this significantly impacted the way that I experienced school as an openly queer kid.

I think I was really lucky to have progressive Catholic educators as parents. Both of my parents are established Catholic educators in the Northwest Territories, and they protected me unconditionally within my school system, and they were positioned to do so as educators and administrators who worked within it. I definitely experienced some homophobia from my classmates and teachers, but I think I was shielded from a lot of it because of who my parents were. I know other queer kids in Catholic schools aren’t that lucky.

Still, when I was in Grade 5, I approached my elementary school principal and asked if I could plan something in school for May 17, the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia & Transphobia. She said “no.” I walked out of her office thinking to myself: “You will rue the day that you told me I couldn’t do this!” Ever since then, I have had a strong commitment and motivation to work on improving learning spaces for 2SLGBTQ+ kids and teachers.

More recently, when I took my Master’s of Education at the University of Regina where I focused on queering curriculum and community-based curriculum development, I was in an early childhood education course where I heard my colleagues (most of whom were licensed and practicing teachers in Saskatchewan!) share anti-gay and anti-trans dogwhistles about queer and trans children. I was amazed at how many really competent teachers were spouting off talking points that I thought everybody understood were violent and obviously harmful towards 2SLGBTQ+ communities. This has led me to develop a stronger interest in queering children’s literature and queering early childhood education; however, I’m definitely not an expert yet!

j wallace skelton: GSD work and research is about me, my family, my children, my communities, and other 2SLGBTQA+ people who do not get the love, welcome, language, and celebration they deserve. For me, this question is like saying “Why do you work for justice for yourself and everyone you know?”

I was out as a queer person in 1990. By 1995, I was an official delegate for the International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA) to the UN’s Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing. I was lobbying with people like Palesa Beverly Ditsie and Dylan Scholinski. Palesa Beverly Ditsie is a South African activist whose work included ensuring that The Republic of South Africa’s constitution prohibited discrimination against on the grounds of sexual orientation. Dylan Scholinski is a trans person who spent his high school years in psychiatric hospitals undergoing conversion therapy, and who then became an activist against conversion therapy. I was deeply inspired by them both. Dylan and I almost got arrested, along with others, for supporting Palesa during her speech to the UN about the importance of supporting human rights of people of all sexual orientations. We were being taken down a long hallway by Chinese security, when Bella Abzug intervened by blocking the hallway with her wheelchair. Her aide got on the phone to the US State Department and Bella refused to move until they released us. It was a stunning moment of solidarity work.

Making queer and trans lives possible is about all of us engaging in community care. I am constantly inspired by people who do the ongoing work of making more possibility for themselves and others. It’s a giant group project and we inspire and support each other in it.

What successes, failures, or changes have you seen over the years in the work of gender and sexual diversity in education?

Fritz: My work has not necessarily changed over the years. However, I continue to engage in local or spaced-based research, community organizing, and advocacy. I believe that queer and trans issues are shaped and impacted by the politics and social structures of local settings.

The change I have seen, at least in the context of my work, is that the momentum of advocating for queer and trans lives has been magnified/increased. This is also based on my observation that queer and trans experiences of oppression and discrimination continue to manifest in varying levels, sometimes quite subtly within institutions and organizations.

j wallace skelton: I often remind cis het folks that we are still reasserting our own identities, and taking back our ability to name ourselves. Taking it back from medical establishments that want to pathologize us, taking it back from legal establishments that want to criminalize us. Black people, Indigenous people, and people of colour continually have to assert their identities, value, being in the face of white supremacy and colonialism. Work I did a decade ago, that I felt great about then, now feels inadequate, and this work has to be constantly revisited and made better.

Fred Moten (2016), a Black thinker and philosopher I feel inspired by, when asked about the work of Black people said, “I love all the beautiful stuff we’ve made under constraint, but I’m pretty sure I would love all the beautiful things we’d make out from under constraint better.” Similarly, I think our culture has not yet seen what 2SLGBTQA+ people would do if we got to experience love and freedom. I want to get to see that. This drives my work.

It’s hard to write about successes at a time of push back and resistance. We’re experiencing more public transphobia, particularly directed towards trans women and trans femmes. Bathroom bans, bathroom violence, push back against Drag Queen Story Hours, barriers to participation in sports are about keeping trans people out of public life—they are about making trans lives unlivable. And that does not include challenges in accessing appropriate medical care, barriers to getting accurate ID, ways trans people experience violence and discrimination in housing, employment, and other spheres. I want to create the conditions where trans people can thrive, where all people have access to language about gender diversity, where there is freedom and where people are valued. We are so far from there.

And, there is more access to language. Some provinces, school boards and schools have policy.

We see moments of queering and transing curriculum. For a long time, work in education has been about accommodating individuals, and teachers can be really good at this —I’m very interested in dismantling the systems of oppression—the ways that sexism, cissexism, transphobia, and homophobia (along with colonialism, racism, ableism, and classism) shape our society and schools.

Jacq: Over the past decade, I’ve seen schools and school districts make huge strides towards 2SLGBTQ+ inclusion in their schools. Many school-wide GSAs are thriving, including elementary school GSAs, and regular celebratation of Pride month. This is huge. It has become significantly easier for 2SLGBTQ+
people to work with schools to become more inclusive.

But while I have seen immense growth from educational organizations on the topic of GSD, I also have seen a move to performative and neo-liberal approaches to this work. Schools are hoisting Pride flags and sharing instagram posts about their GSAs, but they are still failing at providing 2SLGBTQ+ young people with a queer-affirming space to learn and grow. Trans children continue to be misgendered and belittled by their teachers and administrators, elementary students lack intersectional and critical pedagogy related to GSD topics, and queer-inclusive sexual health education is still far behind. There is so much more work to do—and schools need to recognize that a Pride flag, while important, needs to be accompanied with critical and radical approaches to education.

I would also name that I think that the training of future teachers is improving around topics related to GSD, notably because the University of Regina and University of Saskatchewan have invested more energy into finding faculty who focus on queer or Two-Spirit studies in education. Despite this purposeful effort though, I continue to witness both BEd and MEd students
discussing GSD topics with little to no critical lens.

Christie: I think gay-straight alliances (GSA) in schools have created safe spaces and conversations that didn’t even seem possible 25 years ago. I know there’s still work to do, but I am grateful for the work of every student and every teacher involved in GSAs today.

James: Like sexuality and gender itself, this field of study and practice is fluid and dynamic and continuing to change. For example, when I graduated from high school homosexuality was not only considered a sin, a sickness, and a perversion, it was also illegal and individuals were imprisoned because of their sexual orientation. In the space of 50 years, our society has rapidly changed its understanding of sexual orientation and gender identities and gradually now appreciates that difference and diversity is a strength for all of us and something to embrace and celebrate. The struggle for basic human rights and equity is as old as civilizations themselves and we have a much better understanding now that all cultures over time have always had gender and sexual diversities.

Kyla: Markers of success include the fact that many students are expecting to be seen, heard, and believed; school division policies and procedures are being developed to ensure students are protected, respected, and included; Provincial curriculum is more inclusive of differing identities; the Ministry of Education has a policy statement (2015) on GSAs in schools; and more students are “out” in schools.

However, school divisions need to continue to educate students, staff, and families about diverse identities, including gender and sexual diversity. Some school divisions have “pockets” of advocacy happening but many school divisions do not have policies that articulate their beliefs and expectations specific to gender and sexual diversity.

Identity is becoming more politicized and less personalized, which has created an environment of debate. People are navigating how to be “religious yet supportive.” However, parents/families who are gender and/or sexually diverse are expecting that their identities are included and represented in classrooms.

James: It has been a long time coming, but finally we are acknowledging that the teaching profession can be a place for the 2SLGBTQ+ community and that sexual and gender diverse teachers have a voice. It is almost 50 years ago that Doug Wilson, a gay Master’s student from Meadow Lake in the College of Education at the University of Saskatchewan was fired by the Dean for placing an ad in the student newspaper inviting interested people to a meeting to establish a gay association on campus. The idea that a homosexual be allowed to supervise teacher-interns in the schools was considered to be immoral and illegal and not in keeping with the “higher standards” to which all teachers are held.

The Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission failed to support him because sexual orientation was not included then as a “protected category.”

Today, young student teachers, including gender and sexually diverse ones, are demanding that their school experiences be free from discrimination and that they must not just be tolerated but celebrated and allowed to be their “authentic selves” in the classroom, for their own benefit, for the benefit of the students they teach, and for the benefit of the school systems and communities in which they teach.

What do you see as the current challenges around gender and sexual diversity in education?

Christie: I find myself regularly reminded that the work of supporting sexual and gender diversity—in education and elsewhere—is not done yet. And, even where gains have been made, I think it’s important not to take these gains for granted.

Fritz: There are still so many challenges. Part of it sometimes is the reluctance in the field of education to create change on their curriculum that does not center on the heteronormative. There is still backlash from conservative groups even around the existence of queer and trans people in the academy.

j wallace skelton: Many teachers don’t receive any training on how to create safe and celebratory environments for 2SLGBTQA+ people. Even teachers who want to be supportive may be unclear about how to do that, or if they are allowed to.

Schools are often not safe for 2SLGBTQA+ people. Sexism, heterosexism, and cissexism continue to be the culture of most schools. Homophobia and transphobia continue to negatively impact staff and students.

Students who are outside of heterosexuality or cissexuality continue to experience the epistemic injustice of being denied access to words for their own identities, to histories, and to possibility models. Schools often don’t have text books, curriculum materials, images, and other forms of representation. What they do have is often by and about White, able bodied people living middle class lives.

There is a rising conservative backlash that is making schools less safe for 2SLGBTQ students and for educators who are doing 2SLGBTQ work.

Jacq: I think that the rise in transmisogyny as a political strategy is really alarming. While some might think that this is only happening in the extremes in places like Florida, where we recently saw the Governor ban trans affirming health care for children, we’re seeing this transmisogyny manifest in our own backyards. Recently, a Drag Queen Storytime event was protested in Saskatoon, and although it may be easy to simply describe this as homophobia, trans women and trans feminine people are overwhelmingly the targets for this kind of rhetoric and violence. Those who study this transphobia have made direct links between transphobia and fascism, and while some people may accuse me of overexaggerating or being overly concerned, this link is clear to anybody who spends a large amount of time engaging in these spaces.

Until educators and administrators have a significant grasp of transfeminist theory and trans studies in education, we can’t hope to overcome this challenge. Trans girls in schools across Canada and the U.S. are being unfairly targeted and made into a bogeyman that transphobic and “gender critical” activists are using to further anti-trans perspectives.

Kyla: The challenges include a lack of knowledge and capacity; fear of backlash and a lack of support; absence of policy and procedures; competing “priorities”; and a lack of government leadership.

Allyship: How can teachers, professors, and administrators better support 2SLGBQT+ students?

j wallace skelton: Create a safe environment for all your students. Don’t allow homophobia, transphobia, or gender policing. Ensure all students have access to language, information, history about 2SLGBTQA+ people. Acknowledge that homophobia and transphobia are tools of colonialism. Ensure that students have a safe and confidential way to share their name and pronoun with you. Ensure that you always use their name and pronouns, that other faculty do, and that if you have a substitute teacher, they get the right information. Openly talk and teach about 2SLGBTQA+ people, cultures, communities and our lives. Listen. Your students may be more familiar with 2SLGBTQA+ people and cultures, and you may have a lot to learn from them. Find your own co-conspirators, people who will support you in this work. Build your own network of allies. Know that this is part of the work of equity and justice, and that this work is on going and intersectional.

James: Allies are necessary, needed, wanted, and appreciated, especially in a profession like teaching.

Jacq: I’m actually not interested in “allyship” in education. I’ve learned from Indigenous Action, about the idea of accomplices, over allies. Cisgender, heterosexual teachers and professors need to be willing to put their bodies, jobs, incomes and safety on the line for queer and trans students and colleagues who are experiencing violence every day.

This means queering your classroom by challenging the status quo and disrupting power dynamics in the classroom. This means teaching about queer and trans existence, no matter how young the children are. This means protecting a trans kid from abusive colleagues or their abusive family. This means recognizing that police in schools harms queer and trans kids, especially Indigenous queer and trans children, Black queer and trans children, and queer and trans children of colour, and advocating for the removal of school resource officers. This means breaking school administrative procedures that segregate trans kids from their peers in gendered activities, changerooms and bathrooms.

Christie: I would like to defer to the experts in teacher education on this question. But, I will mention that symbols of 2SLGBTQ+ allyship still matter—perhaps especially to those who are listening and looking for that support. For instance, for some, listening and looking, displaying pride flags, and introducing your pronouns (if you use them) will matter a lot. (Please don’t require others to share their pronouns, though; simply creating the space for the possibility of sharing pronouns is what matters.) And this might go without saying for some, but using an individual’s pronouns and name matters; do that.

Fritz: Support begins with the self. This means mindset or epistemological change. One of ways of contributing to decolonization is to decolonize our minds and gazes from the dominant understanding of gender and sexualities. There is need to take action in supporting queer and trans initiatives and advocacies; standing up for queer and trans folks and helping to center their voices and experiences, especially when thinking about implementation of curriculum, student training and development, research, and service.

Kyla: Teachers and professors can support 2SLGBQT+ students by education and reflection; listening to diverse stories; diversifying resources; establishing alliances for gender and sexual diversity; attending professional development; reading queer academic work; asking questions of senior leaders; telling students, “I see you, I hear you, I believe you”; talking about privilege; challenging microaggressions; and learning to call out and to call in.

How have you personally been supported in education systems?

Jacq: In my MEd at the U of R, I navigated so much frustration, but it was an instructor who taught me my first early childhood education course who really meaningfully supported me. When I reached out to inquire about a lack of queer content in the syllabus, she immediately apologized and committed to adding material, and while she invited me to share my own thoughts around what should be included, she also recognized that it wasn’t my responsibility to teach myself. She went out of her way to add content that was relevant to me and what I wanted to learn.

Above that though, when my classmates engaged in that week’s content in homophobic and transphobic ways—she validated and affirmed my frustration and disappointment, and made sure that I was accommodated and able to express this frustration with my colleagues in a supportive environment.

All that being said, the most active form of solidarity that I’ve seen throughout my education is when educators are willing to be queer alongside me—whether that’s publicly as openly queer educators, or after they trust me, finding small ways to share with me that they’re queer, too. I think that these types of mentorships, between queer educators and queer students, is what really builds supportive education spaces. That’s why schools and universities need to actively hire queer and trans faculty and staff.

Kyla: My graduate studies at U of R deepened my understanding of gender and sexual diversity from an academic focus. My role as a coordinator in school divisions has opened the door for my advocacy work.

James: I moved from Saskatoon to Regina as a newly minted and openly gay man in 1995 and the Faculty of Education and the University of Regina was welcoming, supportive, and ready to move with the times. In particular, I have former colleagues Dr. Meredith Cherland and Dr. Liz Cooper to thank for such a climate. They pushed me to go farther than I might have on my own.

j wallace skelton: In Grade 5, when people thought I was a girl, I was cast in a skit for the Christmas concert as a mouse. My friend Heath was cast as Santa. I wanted to be Santa and wear a beard, but the teacher was clear that because Heath was taller he should be Santa, and I, the shorter person, should be the mouse. Heath and I secretly switched the night of the performance. Peers and friends have often supported me through acts of allyship even when the official system did not.

Fifteen years ago, I was part of an integrated equity team for the Halton District School Board. One of my colleagues was a Muslim woman who wore a hijab. She and I would often lead trainings for staff teams together—me the queer trans person, her the hijabi-wearing married woman. Teachers attending the trainings would look back and forth between us, and sometimes ask if we hated each other. Suzanne Muir absolutely had my back at all times. I had hers. Our ability to work together and support each other was itself a powerful training tool.

In grad school my supervisor, Rob Simon, encouraged me to copy him on any email about any transphobic issues I encountered. All through grad school I would continue to encounter systems with the wrong name, or the wrong honourific, or refusals to print my actual name on my diploma. These are the kind of things that suck your time and energy away from your actual work. I would copy Rob, and he would first respond to the email expressing his concern and then phone the person who was responsible for that area and make them fix it. Knowing that I did not have to fight these battles on my own made a huge difference. It would have been so much better if the university had fixed its systems, but it hadn’t and Rob Simon used his institutional power to address them.

What are some examples of unsupportive behaviours demonstrated by teachers or professors?

j wallace skelton: When I first started doing this work, I had a high school principal, who asked me “Why should I let you, a young gay man, have access to children.”

When I was advocating for a trans high school athlete, his principal physically assaulted me, throwing me against a concrete wall. She said this was so I would understand what would happen to him if he was in the boy’s changeroom.

I’ve encountered principals who have told me it is not possible for them to have an all-gender bathroom at their school, or who have designed processes so onerous that students leave the building to access the bathroom. I’ve seen teachers send students to the office when they don’t believe the student is who they say they are, because they have decided the sex marker on the attendance is more authoritative than the student. Teachers who are homophobic, who harass students, who blame students for homophobic or transphobic violence they encounter, who don’t stop students who are engaging in homophobia or transphobia—An unspeakable amount of casual, thoughtless heterosexism and cissexism exists and gender stereotyping is endemic.

Jacq: Throughout the work that I’ve done to support parents and students in Saskatchewan, I’ve heard all kinds of stories from them about what they’ve experienced. Parents have told me that they were told by openly gay educators, in response to their complaint that their kids were experiencing transphobia at school, that “transphobia doesn’t happen at this school,” as if being queer means it’s impossible to perpetuate transphobia. Students have told me about teachers refusing to use their chosen name, because it’s not “on their file,” and that they were unable to learn about queer sexual health at school. I’ve heard so many stories, and it gets so disheartening, especially when a lot of these stories are about teachers and administrators who claim to be allies.

In my Master’s program, I had another professor who consistently misgendered me and the other trans students in her class. After weeks of this, I finally explained to her that when she misgenders me, it makes it harder for me to focus and learn. She responded with gratuitous apologies, but explained that it was hard for her, and she didn’t mean anything by it. She kept misgendering me and my friends. I stopped engaging in that class.

Kyla: Examples of unsupportive behaviours include using binary language; resisting someone’s pronouns; not acknowledging microaggressions; heteronormative language, resources, authors, and so on; a lack of conversation about diverse identities; and an absence of representation.

What is your advice to the Faculty of Education (and other Faculties of Education)?

Jacq: We need to go further than 2SLGBTQ+ inclusive education, or GSD inclusive education—we need to aim for queering education, for queer pedagogy, for trans pedagogy, and for education that liberates all of us from homophobic and transphobic systems.

Christie: Let’s keep doing the work–begin by continuing to recognize that there is still work to do. And let’s keep making things better for all our students.

James: My advice is to continue to explain, teach, and show and tell that every person in the world has a sexual orientation and a gender identity and that, beyond any simple binary, such diversity, complexity, and fluidity is not just healthy but actually necessary for social and ecological systems in the Anthropocene.

And don’t think of sexual orientation and gender identity in schooling as an “administrative problem” to deal with, but a human issue involving uniquely real people who deserve to be embraced with the dignity they deserve.

Kyla: I have taught the EHE 487 class a number of times. It (or a similar course) should be a required course for all education students. We should ensure that the co-operating teachers with whom we are placing our preservice teachers have the understanding of anti-oppressive education and to role-model. Ensure there is a balance of representation of queer authors. Create a forum for queer preservice educators and their allies to talk about navigating and thriving in Saskatchewan schools.

j wallace skelton: Most schools replicate the ableism, classism, colonization, homophobia, racism, sexism, transphobia, and other forms of systemic oppression that are part of mainstream society. Education needs to be a place of justice, and that means challenging ourselves and our students to create equitable places where all students can thrive. Anti-oppression work needs to be explicit and intersectional. It needs to be central in teacher education because it is central to schools being just places. We can not teach as we were taught. We know that inflicted significant harm. We must do better.


Indigenous speaker series hosting Dr. Kim TallBear

Save the date for the next Whisperings of the Land Indigenous Speaker Series, Thursday November 17, 2022 @ 10:00 a.m. via Zoom. The presenter, Dr. Kim TallBear, will speak on Science v. the Sacred, a Dead-End Settler Ontology.

Dr. Kim TallBear (Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate) (she/her) is Professor and Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Peoples, Technoscience, and Society, Faculty of Native Studies, University of Alberta. She is the author of Native American DNA: Tribal Belonging and the False Promise of Genetic Science. In addition to studying genome science disruptions to Indigenous self-definitions, Dr. TallBear studies colonial disruptions to Indigenous sexual relations. She is a regular panelist on the weekly podcast, Media Indigena.

Settler-colonial society works to separate so-called spirituality from the material. This worldview inhibits understanding Indigenous knowledges as knowledge based on centuries of observations and lived relations with other-than-humans. Instead, Indigenous peoples are viewed as “spiritual,” and the disciplines tend to implicitly denigrate Indigenous understandings of the world as beliefs rather than knowledges. The knowledge/belief divide stems from a hierarchy of life that the sciences share with major religious traditions. With this understanding of sentience and agency, some humans rank above others according to race or gender, for example, and humans rank above other life forms. More recently, “new materialists” and multi-species ethnographers have analyzed other-than-humans in less hierarchical and more “vibrant” or agential, if still secular terms. I bring such ideas into conversation with Indigenous ideas of being in good relation in ways that disrupt longstanding racial hierarchies of thought.

Spotlight on new Elder-in-Residence May Desnomie

Elder-in-residence, May Desnomie

Elder May Desnomie, a Woodland Cree from Peter Ballantyne First Nation, was born and raised in the northern Saskatchewan hamlet of Sandy Bay. Her family on both of her mom’s and dad’s sides and grandparents going back generations lived off the land, hunting, trapping, fishing and gathering. Before she was taken to the Catholic-run Guy Hill Indian Residential School in The Pas, Manitoba at the young age of 6, May also lived off the land: “I was 100% immersed in my language and culture until I was taken away to residential school in 1956.”

If being far away from home at such a young age wasn’t enough hardship, residential school was made harder because of the parental visitation policies: “Parents weren’t allowed to visit in residential school. They had a room they called a parlor next to the principal’s office. The parents would come to visit there, and they were only allowed one hour,” says May.

Though attending residential school didn’t destroy May’s Catholic faith, it did affect the faith of some members of her family. “There are four of us that went to residential schools and two will not have anything to do with the church. I personally didn’t suffer any physical or sexual abuse.”

Still, May recognizes the damage done by the policies of residential schools, She says, “I have nothing good to say about residential schools. They destroyed our cultures, our languages, our families. For myself, I met many good people along my journey. Although I am not going to say anything nice about residential schools, I will say there were nice people. However, the policies were destructive: the residential school was trying to destroy our way of life. That is still their goal: They still want to assimilate us, to fit us into the Canadian multicultural dream, but they can’t forget that we were the first people on this land.”

May moved to Wilcox to attend high school at Athol Murray College of Notre Dame boarding school after 9 years as a student at Guy Hill. She says, “I was sent there as part of the integration policy. My aunt was a teacher/nun at the elementary school there, and I could see her because she was a supervisor.” The change in landscape from her northern roots was a big change for May, “It was a culture shock for me, being from northern Saskatchewan with the rocks and the forest. Honestly, Wilcox has the flattest land in Saskatchewan, I swear. And we didn’t have the water that we had up north. When I was a child, you could drink water right from the lakes up north. We drank the water from the dugout at Wilcox and it was bad.”

After being in an institution for 11 years of her life, May decided to move to Saskatoon to take her Grade 12 from E. D. Feehan Catholic High School. “I had to find some freedom. I don’t know why, but I ended up in Saskatoon. Indian Affairs put us in boarding homes.”

May decided to become a teacher after graduating high school because she wanted to help change the narrative of Indigenous people in Canadian society. She says, “When I was in residential school, I did not learn my Indigenous history, like the history of Indian people. We were told we were savages and pagans and I didn’t think that was right. I was hoping I could change that narrative in the classroom to some degree.” After graduating from the University of Saskatchewan with a Bachelor of Education, May and her husband Gerry Desnomie returned to the North, moving to Red Earth First Nation where she taught Grade 1 students.

Changing the narrative has been the work of May’s entire career in education: “It’s coming along slowly, but now they teach treaties in the classroom, and now they have native studies in high school, but they still need to change the curriculum to have more of the Indigenous perspective in there.” To help with curriculum change, May is sitting with an elder’s group that is advising the provincial government on curriculum.

May also has a heart for reparation work. She belongs to three groups dedicated to this work: the Intercultural Grandmothers Uniting (IGU), which is made up of Indigenous and non-Indigenous women working toward building bridges of understanding, respect, trust and friendship; the Aboriginal Non Aboriginal Relations Community (ANARC); and a TRC committee, with the Catholic Church. “They are hoping to repair the wrongs done by the church to Indigenous people, so that is why I joined that group.”

In her role as Elder-in-Residence with the Faculty of Education, May hopes to continue her work of changing the narrative about Indigenous people. She says, “I hope I can tell the wider society about Indigenous people, that we are part of society and we feel the way they do: We have our joys and our sorrows, our hopes and our dreams. I want them to know about our history, our Indigenous history. Many of them wonder about and have so many stereotypes about Indigenous people, that ‘they’re lazy, they don’t want to work, or they are alcoholics,’ and those are the ones you see. The majority of us are okay, we are successful. This is what I want to tell the general public. The government has made us invisible in the past, through residential schools and restricting us from leaving our reserves, and they told the wrong story about us.”

Being made invisible damages Indigenous people; May says, “They don’t know the damage they are doing to our person; it makes it so you’re not proud of yourself as an Indigenous person. I always tell my students to be proud of who you are; I know you can’t be successful until you are proud of who you are. Otherwise you are always trying to hide who you are.”

“I want to tell the right story. But not just me, I will have a hard time trying to educate society. Canadians will have to go out and educate themselves, read books, and find about our history and they will know who we are and can be our allies, and help us move forward and walk with us.”

Elder May Desnomie replaces the former Elder-in-Residence, Elder Alma Poitras, who retired recently.








Indigenous games enjoyed by medical students | A new Interprofessional Health Collaborative event

Lamarr Oksasikewiyin of Sweet Grass First Nation, instructs students in Indigenous games.

First-year medical students from the newly formed University of Saskatchewan (UofS) Regina campus College of Medicine participated in their first Indigenous Health Experience, facilitated by land-based learning teacher (Kakisiwew School on Ochapowace First Nation), Lamarr Oksasikewiyin, from Sweetgrass First Nation.

Julia Billingsley and Whitney Curtis, first-year medical students, Regina campus

First-year medical student, Julia Billingsley, says, “I think this was a really great opportunity to experience Indigenous games. It’s a great way to experience the culture and it’s great that the games are being brought back and that they are being taught to this generation. I think this should continue and this event should be an annual thing.”

Student Whitney Curtis agrees, “Today was so exciting! It was a great opportunity to get involved and gain a better understanding of Indigenous culture. Like Julia said, it’s great that we are working towards reconciliation and learning more, and that there is a cultural resurgence. I’m very excited to be a part of this.”

Eriq Marleau, first-year medical student, Regina campus

“This was a great experience,” says student Eriq Marleau. “It was fun to get out on a nice day and learn a bit about Indigenous culture, about how there are similarities; some games that they played, we grew up with as well. Like the top game, Lamarr noted that it is similar among a lot of cultures, and some of the other games too, like double ball and lacrosse. It was super fun to get out and play these games and have a great afternoon.”

“Traditional games are a safe way to learn about Indigenous culture and are the foundation of modern medicine,” says Dr. JoLee Sasakamoose, Chair of the Educational Psychology and Counselling program at the University of Regina and Adjunct Faculty in the U of S College of Medicine, Regina Campus.

Dr. Sasakamoose and Amanda Crowe, the Indigenous Coordinator at the U of S College of Medicine Regina Campus, organized the inaugural event, which took place at the First Nations University campus, Treaty Four territory, on September 21, 2022.

Amanda Crowe, Indigenous Coordinator for the U of S Regina campus, and Dr. JoLee Sasakamoose, Chair of the Educational Psychology and Counselling program at the U of R and Adjunct Faculty in the U of S College of Medicine, Regina Campus.

Crowe says, “We are shaping the next generation of health care practitioners at both universities. Volunteer counselling students from the U of R education psychology program made swag bags for the new med students to welcome them.”

The event is part of the first stage of relationship building to develop the Interprofessional Health Collaborative (IHC), a partnership between the University of Regina, the Saskatchewan Health Authority, and the University of Saskatchewan.

Sasakamoose says, “During the peak of the pandemic in 2020, the Universities of Saskatchewan and Regina, along with the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA), collaborated on the development of a partnership model to co-develop a community-focused medical school at the U of S Regina Campus, including programs to assist and address community health care needs within the Treaty 4 territory. The Interprofessional Health Collaborative (IHC) was formed to implement a model to increase access to healthcare, support and ensure better patient engagement with treatment, and provide health advocacy, education, and promotion focused on the region’s healthcare needs.”

Crowe adds, “The IHC mission is regionally specific and intends to increase the recruitment of Indigenous students into STEM (K-12) and health profession careers to enhance and expand preprofessional health education opportunities and training in advanced health and wellness research.”

The IHC is responding to the TRC Calls to Action for health care (#18-24). Sasakamoose says, “Indigenous people in Canada have had to deal with disease, sickness, and starvation. History shows that we can’t count on the federal or provincial governments to provide enough support. As partners, we work together to teach students in a wide range of interprofessional programs how to better help under-served people while developing social responsibility. We provide health professionals, such as doctors, nurses, medical students, counsellors, educators and community-based peer health advocates, continuing education and training in culturally responsive, respectful ways. Utilizing traditional approaches such as land and cultural-based programming and community and relationship building, we respond directly to the TRC’s calls.”

The IHC will produce a final report informed by consultations with Indigenous people in the province, centred on the Treaty Four region. When released, the report will identify essential Indigenous health concerns and make suggestions for the region’s future Indigenous health and research agenda.

Faculty Spotlight | Dr. Michael Cappello, Interim Associate Dean

Dr. Michael Cappello, Acting Associate Dean of Student Services and Undergraduate Programs. Photo by Shuana Niessen

Today, our spotlight is shining on Dr. Michael Cappello, who is currently Acting Associate Dean of Student Services and Undergraduate Programs and Chair of the Elementary Education Program.

Michael teaches in Educational Core Studies (ECS), specifically in anti-racism and anti-oppressive education. Studying anti-racism/anti-oppressive education is important because, “If we acknowledge that the society that we live in is racist, sexist, homophobic, etc… what do we do we that? How do we (un)learn these things? What might it mean for the future classrooms that we teach in? Some might hear this as negative, but I want to underline that this is positive,” says Michael. He quotes Dr. Cornel West, who says, “Justice is what love looks like in public.” Michael adds, “These commitments to anti-oppressive education are rooted in and motivated by love.”

Decolonizing education has become Michael’s passion: “As a non-Indigenous person, over the last 5 or 6 years I have become increasingly passionate about decolonizing education, and what it means to live into the obligations of being a treaty person in this space. I think that schools can become places where we unlearn the genocidal dreams of my ancestors and begin to imagine what it might look like to live ethically here, in support of the dreams/futures/nationhood of Indigenous peoples.”

As advice to students, Michael says, “Your engagement is the single most important determinant of your learning. Never do an assignment that isn’t meaningful to you. To be clear – this isn’t an invitation to not do things, rather an invitation for you to make your work meaningful. While the instructor and the syllabus all matter, you alone have the ability to ensure that your work has meaning for you.”

Outside of work, Michael enjoys the outdoors, and tries to travel to the mountains every year.

Award-winning master’s student researches Indigenous language revitalization using video-chat technology

William (Bill) Cook (MEd’22) was recently awarded one of two Spring 2022 Associate Dean’s Graduate Student Thesis Awards. Bill is from wapâtikwaciwanohk (Southend, Reindeer Lake) Saskatchewan. He is currently an Assistant Professor at Brandon University in Manitoba. Bill has a BA in Cree Language Studies from the First Nations University of Canada and has taught Cree language at all levels for over 20 years. Bill’s award-winning thesis is entitled, “Indigenous Language Revitalization: Connecting Distant Cree Language Learners With Cree Language Speakers Using Video-Chat Technology.” The following is a Q & A with Bill about his research story:

Q & A with Bill Cook

Why did you chose to do your master’s degree (thesis route)?

I chose the thesis route because when I started considering doing my masters, I was told by a few people that if I were considering doing a PhD program after my masters, then going the thesis route would be beneficial to getting into PhD programs. For me, doing a thesis was much more beneficial than I thought. It taught me how to do a study, how to collect data, how to work with people as participants and co-researchers, and I learned some different methodologies both Indigenous and non-Indigenous on how to approach research. I feel that going this route prepared me to be a better researcher.

 Why did you choose the U of R?

I was a Cree sessional instructor at the First Nations University when I met Dr. Andrea Sterzuk. She had taken a couple of Cree courses that I taught. I had inquired about an EdTech grad program and Andrea mentioned a master’s program through the University of Regina’s Faculty of Education called Curriculum and Instruction, which included EdTech courses that interested me. She thought this would be a good fit. I agreed. I applied for the program and the Faculty of Graduate Studies and Research and the Education Research and Graduate Programs offices were so helpful to me during this process. It also allowed for me to continue working close to home.

What were the circumstances that led to your research thesis topic?

My research topic was Indigenous Language Revitalization: Connecting Distant Cree Language Learners with Cree Language Speakers Using Video-Chat Technology. This topic was an easy choice for me to decide on. I have been teaching the Cree language for over 20 years at all levels of education from instructing kindergarten students to university courses. One question I have been asked by many language learners throughout the years has been “What do I do next to become fluent in the language?” and my answer is always to immerse themselves in the language and, if possible, to move into a community that predominantly speaks the target language. Most times, language learners are not able to move to those locations, which are typically First Nations communities. By identifying that distance was the barrier, I wanted to see if using technology to make these connections would be beneficial in language learning and also if this could be an option to anyone from anywhere for Cree speaking practice.

How did this topic become important to you?

I believe the work in Cree language revitalization is very important work. If we ever lose our Indigenous languages in this country of Canada then where do we go to learn them? This is our home, our land. Our Indigenous cultures, languages, traditions, identities stem from this land; the land is our language. This is all we have, we have nothing else, we can’t go anywhere else. We have a responsibility to reclaim, revitalize, preserve, and maintain our Indigenous languages.

What were your research findings?

In doing my research I found that having regular synchronous video-chats were effective in remote language learning in both language and culture. Fluent speakers can share their language and culture just by being themselves from wherever there is Internet access. Also, when working with non-tech savvy participants, you must assist with the technology or else find them someone they are comfortable with to assist them. Laughter was a dominant factor throughout the daily virtual conversations, having fun with your project is a good thing. It was enjoyable to see everyone getting more comfortable with speaking in Cree as much as they could. Video-chat technology is a good tool for connecting grandparent with grandchild; this grandparent/grandchild pair in my study made bannock in real-time while repeating Cree words of the process. (See video below).

What impacted you most about your findings?

What impacted me the most was that once the connections were made, the conversations began to flow naturally. The project began a life of its own and seemed to have a spirit of its own. The participants were able to adapt to technology. I am so grateful to all my participants for their work. The relationships built during this process allowed for the conversations to happen naturally. I wondered if the participants not being face-to-face would be able to achieve this connection and I was impressed that it had.

What was the highlight during the process?

The highlight for me was to get to do my study in my hometown and spend time with my family back home in Southend was a bonus. It reminded me of my childhood, growing up and doing things like netting, plucking ducks, filleting fish, making bannock, and cooking on an open fire. Another highlight was watching my participants, especially my parents, gaining confidence in using the tech tools. Lastly, hearing the Cree language being spoken between the learner and speaker was enjoyable to observe.

What recommendations did you make based on your research findings?

The recommendations I developed were:

  • The use of video-chat technology as a language learning tool is only one way to share language and culture.
  • Investing in tech tools that fit your language learning style is a good investment.
  • Finding ways to employ fluent speakers to share their language and culture using technology is a good step towards revitalizing, preserving, and maintaining language.
  • If you don’t know the protocols of the area then ask; there is nothing wrong with asking.
  • For communities: they can find ways to employ their fluent speakers within their organizations, training community members in technology-based language platforms is a good investment.
  • For schools, universities, and other organizations: they can help in Indigenous language and culture revitalization by incorporating fluent speakers and knowledge keepers within their education systems.

What do you hope will be the outcomes of your research?

I hope to see more opportunities like this study. When the pandemic hit everyone went online to spend time with each other, communicate, and speak, in all languages. I think I have reached an outcome of seeing more people using video-chat tech to communicate and practice language learning. Today, I see many platforms for Indigenous language learning. I hope people continue and grow.

What are your future plans?

My future plans are to continue working in Indigenous language and culture revitalization. I recently got accepted to the Hawaiian and Indigenous Language and Culture Revitalization Doctorate Program at the University of Hawaii in Hilo. I look forward to where that opportunity takes my work. I would like to create employment for fluent Indigenous language speakers with or without having Western education degrees/certificates. This is URGENT to do, as we are losing fluent speakers daily and many of them are not certified to teach in a Western setting. Why do we have to wait for fluent Indigenous language speakers to get certified to pass on their languages? I believe there is a way to incorporate and employ fluent language speakers into Indigenous language programs and courses. I am currently an Assistant Professor at Brandon University. There I will continue teaching the Cree language, creating opportunities for other Indigenous languages, and continued service work in the community and online. I have also been offering a weekly Cree speaking practice group called ‘The Cree Group’ using video-chat. We can be found through Facebook. My work continues with Indigenous languages and cultures using different platforms of technology.

What have been your experiences in the First Nations University of Canada and the University of Regina?

The First Nations University and the University of Regina were both supportive during my studies. All the professors and classmates made my experience enjoyable. The atmosphere was welcoming and I felt at home in these spaces. I give credit to the instructors for being so helpful. There were many opportunities to help me along the way which included study groups, writing groups, financial funding and other support systems that played a role in my success. I am thankful for that.

Who were your influences in deciding on a career in the field of education?

I have to give credit to my late brother and mentor Darren Okemaysim kakî-itît for influencing me in my career in teaching the Cree language. He was my teacher; I took many classes from him. He was my mentor, and gave me the opportunity to teach classes alongside him. He always encouraged me to speak the Cree language, rarely did we ever speak English to each other. He once told me “If you continue your work in the Cree language, you will never go wrong” and he was right. Also, my wife and parents are always supportive and influential of what I do. I feel I am on the right path; this is what I am meant to do. There is lots of work to be done in Indigenous language and culture revitalization.


Links to Bill’s ongoing Cree language and culture work:

Facebook Group page (announcements)

Bill’s Website where you can sign up for the Cree Group events:






De/colonising Educational Relationships

During 2020 and 2021, Dr. Fatima Pirbhai-Illich (University of Regina) and Dr. Fran Martin (University of Exeter) led a series of seminars on
“De/colonising Educational Relationships” and conducted research at the University of Exeter with grants received from the University of Regina’s Faculty of Education, the Centre of Educational Research, Collaboration, and Development (CERCD), the University of Exeter’s Graduate School of Education, and the Centre for Social Mobility.

The seminars were provided in two formats: As a weekend virtual retreat at the University of Regina on November 6 and 7, 2021, and as a series of monthly seminars at the University of Exeter. The topics covered for each university reflect the different audiences and contexts. For those interested in how the ideas were adapted for these specific contexts and audiences, visit the CERCD YouTube channel: Click here