Category: Truth and Reconciliation

Institutional racism and the implications for faculties of education


On September 30, (#OrangeShirtDay) Dr. Jerome Cranston (#UREdu Dean and Professor) was keynote lecturer for the University of Manitoba’s Distinguished Lecturer Virtual Series.  Cranston addressed how amid the current period of racial reckoning, those responsible for teacher preparation, preservice and in-service education, need to confront and (re)consider how higher education has reified systemic racism.

Le Bac student creating film series on Canadian languages

Le Bac #UREdu student Wahbi Zarry and Tony Quiñones have created a 1/2 hour film, 10 Days of Cree, which follows Zarry’s 10-day journey engaging with the larger community while working to learn the Cree language. This is the first of a planned educational webseries exploring Zarry’s experiences with Canadian indigenous languages

Interim President and Vice Chancellor Dr. Thomas Chase writes, “10 Days of Cree is a fine example of the quality work our students produce, and just as importantly, a fine example of reconciliation in action that should inspire and serve as an example for us all – particularly as we work to bring to life our new Strategic Plan, kahkiyaw kiwâhkômâkaninawak.”

Episode 2 on the Nakota language will be released in November. For updates follow Zarry’s Facebook site, Canadian Languages.

Canadian Languages is a webseries exploring indigenous languages of Canada through educational documentaries.

Click to read the University of Regina Feature Story

Canada Research Chair for Truth and Reconciliation Education

Dr. Michelle Coupal (Bonnechere Algonquin First Nation) joined the Faculty of Education in July 2018 as a Canada Research Chair of Truth and Reconciliation Education. Since completing her PhD in English at Western in 2013, Dr. Coupal (Algonquin/French) has achieved national recognition by her peers as an emerging scholar of considerable talent in the fields of Indigenous literatures, particularly Indian residential school literature, and Indigenous pedagogies. Dr. Coupal was appointed by the Indigenous Literary Studies Association (ILSA) as President-Elect (2017-2018), and beginning in November 2018, she will serve as President of ILSA (2018-2019).

Coupal regularly accepts invitations to organize and participate in national panel presentations, including the recent panel for the Association of Canadian College and University Teachers of English (ACCUTE) at Congress 2018 in Regina. Coupal’s contribution, “Irreconcilable Spaces: the Canlit Survey Course in the Indigenous Sharing and Learning Centre Round Room,” posed a challenge to CanLit’s hegemony, and suggested that CanLit is irreconcilably settled on Indigenous literary territories. Coupal also presented at a public event (co-sponsored by ILSA, ACCUTE, and CALCLAS) at Congress 2017, where she, alongside an illustrious panel of speakers including Dr. Warren Cariou (Métis), Dr. Kim Anderson (Cree/Métis), Sarah Henzi, and renowned Mushkego storyteller, Louis Bird (Swampy Cree), presented original work on ways to incorporate Indigenous positioning protocols into the classroom as a means to foster a healthy entry point into and dialogical relationship with the stories Indigenous writers tell. Coupal ultimately considered how positioning protocols can be mobilized to encourage activism and advocacy that extends beyond the classroom setting.

This demonstrated public presence and scholarly recognition are closely tied to Coupal’s research productivity. Coupal’s book-in-progress, Teaching Trauma and Indian Residential School Literatures in Canada, was awarded a SSHRC Insight Development Grant (2016-2018), and will be published by Wilfrid Laurier University Press. Coupal’s ground breaking work embodies Indigenous methodological strategies that include a clear focus on both the theory and praxis of bringing difficult material into largely settler classroom settings. By combining Indigenous understandings with Western ones, Michelle makes her work accessible to the wide reading public so as to move forward the project of responding to the educative Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC).

Coupal is co-editor (with Deanna Reder [Cree/Métis], Joanne Arnott [Métis], and Emalene A. Manuel [Secwepemc/Ktunaxa]) of a collection of the works of Secwepemc/Ktunaxa writer Vera Manuel, which is in press with the University of Manitoba’s First Voices First Texts series edited by Warren Cariou (Métis). The book is scheduled to be released in February 2019.  Manuel’s largely unpublished work, with its focus on the history and legacies of residential schooling, marks a timely contribution to the present-day need for teachable material on the topic. Manuel was a healer committed to decolonizing theatre to purposely reveal her own therapeutic process through her family’s history of attending the schools. Coupal’s achievement in unearthing the archive of this work with Manuel’s sister, Emalene, and her coeditors is testament to her commitment to ethical editorial practices and to bringing Indian residential school literature into the hands of the Canadian reading public and the classroom.

Coupal has published and submitted articles on teaching trauma and Indian residential school literature, truth and reconciliation education, pedagogies of reconciliation, the cultural work of teaching truth and reconciliation through narrative, and Indigenous positioning protocols in the classroom. Coupal delivered the opening keynote address on truth and reconciliation education for Indigenous Research week at Laurentian University in the fall of 2017. She has shown considerable leadership in Indigenizing the academy by co-organizing an international conference in 2016: MAAMWIZING: Indigeneity in the Academy. Coupal’s research contributions not only respond to the TRC’s Calls to Action, they actively work toward decolonizing pedagogies and decolonizing truth and reconciliation itself.

A healing journey expressed through the arts

In October 2018, the Faculty of Education’s emerging Elder in Residence, Joseph Naytowhow, a Plains/Woodland Cree (nêhiyaw) singer, songwriter, storyteller, actor, and educator from the Sturgeon Lake First Nation in Saskatchewan, was recognized by the Saskatchewan Arts Board with an award for his contributions to arts and learning. Naytowhow says this award is significant to him, attributing the recognition to “the children and the people I work with, the teachers, and educators, and I share this award with them.”

This isn’t the first award for Naytowhow, whose work has been recognized by several awards: the 2006 Canadian Aboriginal Music Award’s Keeper of the Tradition Award, a 2005 Commemorative Medal for the Saskatchewan Centennial, the 2009 Gemini Award for Best Individual or Ensemble Performance in an Animated Program or Series for his role in Wapos Bay, the 2009 Best Emerging Male Actor at the Winnipeg Aboriginal Film Festival for his role in Run: Broken Yet Brave and the Best Traditional Male Dancer at the John Arcand Fiddle Fest.

Naytowhow says he appreciates the awards he receives from Saskatchewan, valuing them as “gifts that validate that I have needed both worlds. They’re inseparable.” He considers the awards, as “marking posts in my life that indicated to me that I was someone who had something to share, —I think it validated what I was doing in the spiritual and cultural worlds: nêhiyaw (Cree person) and nêhiyawêwin (speaking Cree), practicing nêhiyaw-isîhcikêwin (Cree culture and ceremony). All I was doing was Indigenous ceremony and culture because that was my life force, my life source.”

At the same time it is difficult to receive the awards because, for Naytowhow, art was never about recognition. He says, “Sometimes you don’t believe it when you’ve been given an award because it’s come from the place that you’ve suffered through and healed through…Everything that I did was about healing. Returning to balance. Everything was about that.”

Naytowhow has invested a lifetime in healing from the trauma of being taken from his family and community at the age of 6, and placed in Indian residential schools for the next 13 years.

“What I went through is one thing, right, 13 years of residential school, is one thing, but you never really understood what you were experiencing academically in education. It didn’t make sense. I didn’t come from that world. I didn’t come from Shakespeare; I didn’t come from math, or from overseas, and yet I was totally immersed in that, and just totally struggled to get through it every step of the way.”

When Naytowhow graduated from highschool, it wasn’t due to academic achievement: “It was like a bull dozer going through a big mud pile, just edging along. I finally got pushed out of that system with a fifty average. I think they just wanted to get me finished. I was really a below average student according to my marks. I was really a very silent learner and you can’t be a silent learner in this system; you have to speak, you have to present, you have to do it their way. And it never really resonated with me,” he says.

After residential school, Naytowhow spent his youth in search of himself. His search for harmony and balance began with attempting to live in the colonial culture. Knowing that education was important to earn a living, Naytowhow, who enjoyed athletics, found a physical education program at a university in Calgary that would accept him with his grades. The program was more about physical performance than academics, and, Naytowhow says, “I did really well; it was all based on skill. I excelled and the first semester my marks were good so I immediately applied to the U of R.” Naytowhow was accepted into the Faculty of Education, but struggled through the next three and a half years before withdrawing from the program. “I was still trying to make sense of this culture that was imposed on me and I sort of got it, but I sort of didn’t. I just barely squeezed by. … I would try to read and I would read for a while and I would fall asleep. I was reading some scientific theory and my mind wanted to write a poem,” he says.

However, after withdrawing from the education program, and while he was working as an Education Liaison for the Friendship Centre, Naytowhow realized that without a degree he wasn’t being taken seriously by the educational administrators, so he decided to finish his Education degree, but this time through ITEP {Indian Teacher Education Program) at the University of Saskatchewan. His practicum took him north to Stanley Mission, to a federally funded school. Naytowhow graduated with a B.Ed., but he didn’t stay in the teaching position he acquired due to a lack of support from the administration.
As Naytowhow continued his search for fulfillment and self, he drifted from job to job, moving from the North to the South, to the further north (NWT) and then back again, trying to fit into the protestant work ethic of 9 to 5 work: “There was something about my experience at residential school that affected my ability to, not so much retain jobs, but stay in a job for any longer than two years. For some reason it was the limit of my mind and body. So I would move; I would want to move: miskâsowin (finding oneself), and opapâpâmacihôs, (moving about in life), that searching for oneself. I wasn’t really fulfilled in the position I was doing. So I would just resign and take off.”

Having children made life a more serious affair and Naytowhow did what he could as a parent to try to maintain stability. He says, “I started being a father and looking after my kids as much as I could within the kind of terrible child rearing that I got through residential school. Some was good, you know; it wasn’t all bad, but it was basically being parented by surrogate parents who didn’t—who couldn’t really take the time to train you to be a young man, a responsible young male, or human being. They just didn’t have time. There was no way they could raise me like a son. So I was trying to raise my own kids from a place of no parenting skills, not learning how to be intimate, not even knowing if I could maintain a job. …. But all along, I really was not feeling fulfilled as a human being, as a male, as a man. I wasn’t being all that society requires for one’s life to be in harmony and in balance, like having the 9 to 5 job, or having a steady income. It happened but it didn’t really make any sense to me.”

What did make sense, what always made sense to Naytowhow, was culture and ceremony: “Singing with the elders or praying with the elders, that was what made sense to me, of anything I was experiencing. The Canadian culture, the protestant work ethic, just didn’t make any sense to me.”

All through his healing journey, Naytowhow was developing an awareness of his Indigenous roots, what he had left behind at the age of 6, the lost memories of loving relationships and experiences with family members and his community. It started first with a realization in his 20s that he was Indigenous (not Canadian as he had been taught), and then the gradual addition of Indigenous culture and ceremony to his life.

While attending the University of Regina, Naytowhow picked up a drum for the first time: “I had a strong urge to go to the drum. I never looked back, ever since I hit that drum.” A visiting visual arts professor from the state of Washington, Leroy of the Yakama tribe, and a colleague, Tim of the Umatilla tribe, introduced him to the drum: “From there,” Naytowhow says, “I went into powwow, into the Sundance, into all the other ceremonies connected through a drum. The drum moved me into the sacred music and songs, and that totally made sense for me to do.”

Naytowhow explains: “My soul was calling out, was being called out, to the elders and ceremonies; that was where I was supposed to be; that was supposed to happen, and I absolutely totally trusted that intuitively.”

“The gifts of music and song and stories that I got from the elders, those were the most critical and most important [awards] that I needed to keep this being alive on this planet. Cause when you’ve gone through residential school, you’ve got extreme trauma that you have to deal with and its always going to be there. Even to this day I still experience pockets of anger and depression and just dark holes that I can’t make sense of, but those stories, or ceremonies, or laughter, anything to do with that, I just had to be there, I had to go there.”

The wisdom of age and experience has given Naytowhow the understanding that “what went wrong, when I went into the colonization culture, was that I tried to be a part of it 100%. I just had to be in and out of it. Had to find short term work and depend on that. That’s probably why I became more a musician and storyteller, became an artist. It was far more flexible and fulfilling as a singer, as someone fascinated by story and fascinated by culture, and I slowly got into acting. For me, I could live there.”

The first time Naytowhow began to consider himself a practicing artist was when he started a residency in Meadow Lake as a storyteller, between 1995 and 2000. He then thought, “Ok, now I can make a living being an artist, being a musician, putting out an album now and then, travelling to storytelling festivals, to music festivals.” His healing journey became the source, he says, “whereby my art practice would flourish and my cultural and spiritual practice. Healing was more a spiritual and cultural journey, more that part, and the art kind of came out of it as a result.”

The Saskatchewan Arts Board Award came with $6000, which is something Naytowhow really appreciates because it allows him to focus on his art: “As an artist, I just need to do the art. But I can’t do it when I’m doing presentations in different areas and being pulled all over. What I need is just some financial support to pay bills and pay my rent. And then I can do songwriting…the things that I do anyway, but I’ve never really been focused as an artist.”

Naytowhow’s healing journey, reconnecting with Indigenous culture and ceremony, and expressed through the arts and education, keeps him connected to both worlds. His presentations begin with Cree concepts, and he relies on the wisdom of the old people to guide him as he educates students. The balance and harmony he has found reflects his Indigenous name, which means “guided by the spirit of the day.”

By Shuana Niessen

One student’s 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.”

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.’”

Dr. Mike Cappello and Aysha Yaqoob, Spring Convocation 2018

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.”

Dr. Jenn de Lugt and Aysha Yaqoob, Convocation Spring 2018

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.

Aysha at Convocation in Spring 2018. Photo credit: Shuana Niessen

“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

Students attend Treaty 4 Gathering

More student tweets (Twitter)

Associate Professor | Truth and Reconciliation Education

As of July 1, 2018, Dr. Michelle Coupal will be joining the Faculty of Education, University of Regina as an Associate Professor in the area of Truth and Reconciliation Education.

Dr. Coupal has been working an assistant professor in Indigenous Rhetorics and Literatures in Canada at Laurentian University, and is herself an Indigenous scholar and member of the Bonnechere Algonquin First Nation. Her research and teaching interests include Indigenous pedagogies and profiles, pedagogies of reconciliation, teaching trauma and Indian Residential School literature, trauma and testimony, and Indigenous literatures of Turtle Island.

She brings a deep understanding of and commitment to truth and reconciliation education. Indeed, her record of research, scholarship, teaching and service while at Laurentian advances the TRC Calls to Action as she seeks to make connections between the stories writers tell in Residential school literature and the lives of their student readers. She fosters these connections through her teaching so that her students may become equipped with the tools and vocabulary to understand Indigenous peoples, literature and histories ethically, and to further consider how we are all shaped by the legacies of colonialism in Canada.

Dr. Coupal is currently the principal investigator on a SSHRC funded Insight Development Grant ($55,691) for her project Teaching Trauma and Indian Residential School Literatures in Canada. She has co-edited an anthology of work titled Honouring the Strength of Indian Women: Plays, Stories, and Poems by Vera Manuel and is currently working on a book to be published with Wilfred Laurier UP for the project Teaching Trauma and Indian Residential School Literatures in Canada. She has also published in peer reviewed journals, has published chapters in edited collections, and has disseminated her work broadly at local, national and international conferences. Further, she has served Laurentian University as a member of the organizing committee and Program Chair for MAAMWIZING: Indigeneity in the Academy; L’université à l’heure de la reconciliation held in November, 2016; as the designate for the Associate Vice-President Indigenous Program’s for the Council of English Language Programs, and as a member of several other University, Faculty and Department Committees.