New program infuses First Nations culture and perspectives into teacher training

York’s Faculty of Education has launched a new First Nation, Métis & Inuit Infusion Teacher Education program at its off-campus site in Barrie, Ont. 

The program focuses on the traditions, perspectives and cultures of indigenous peoples in Canada, and current and historical issues related to them. The First Nation, Métis & Inuit Infusion Teacher Education program is unlike other teacher education programs in Canada because it focuses on infusing an awareness of indigenous peoples across the entire pre-service curriculum, giving teacher candidates a deeper understanding of relationships in order to bring culturally responsive and responsible programming to all students in Ontario classrooms.

Above: Back row, Judy Blaney, course director; Don Dippo, associate dean of pre-service, Faculty of Education; Alice Pitt, dean of the Faculty of Education; Professor Celia Haig-Brown; Chris Paci, manager of education & training for the Métis Nation of Ontario; Lisa Ewanchuk, principal of First Nation, Métis & Inuit Education, Simcoe County District School Board; Patrick Akpalialuk; York graduate student Melissa Blimkie; and York graduate student Spy Dénommé-Welch. Middle row, Jane Crescenzi, executive officer, Faculty of Education; Jeff Monague, former chief, Beausoleil First Nation; Coleen Stewart, course director; Scott Carpenter, regional employment & training coordinator, Region 7, Métis Nation of Ontario; and Diane Vetter, site lead & course director. Front row, Joan Hamilton, course director; and Linda McGregor, manager of First Nation, Métis & Inuit Education Initiatives, Simcoe Muskoka Catholic District School Board.

“The First Nation, Métis & Inuit Infusion program encourages teacher candidates and their students to look independently beyond the dominant stories of their classroom textbooks and to question the facts they think they know,” says Diane Vetter, a course director at the Barrie site. “As a theme for the program, we refer teacher candidates to the work of Cherokee author Thomas King, who writes, ‘Take (this) story. It’s yours. Do with it what you will, but don’t say in years to come that you would have lived your life differently if only you had heard this story. You’ve heard it now.’”

The program, which officially launched Sept. 18, was developed with several goals in mind. First is to make the influences of land, Aboriginal Peoples and relationships – in all their complexities of languages and culture – central to the development of sound and caring teaching practices. Second, the program strives to excise deficit theorizing – which sees aboriginal students as lacking in some way – from the hearts and minds of teachers. Finally, it supports a critical examination of the importance of understandings of relationships between all Canadians and Aboriginal Peoples in the development of culturally responsive pedagogies in Ontario schools.

“With its emphasis on First Nations, Métis and Inuit knowledge, cultures and traditions, the program in Barrie extends the concept of community engagement in education in new and important ways,” says Don Dippo, associate dean of pre-service in the Faculty of Education.

This year, First Nations representatives from the local school boards worked with the program’s course directors to arrange tutoring placements where teacher candidates can work one-on-one with a First Nation, Métis or Inuit student. First Nation, Métis and Inuit community members have been active participants in the program’s Partnership Circle and have played an integral role in arranging the one-week winter term practicum placement. This practicum provides teacher candidates with an opportunity to live in a First Nation, Métis or Inuit community and work in an associated school.

The official launch of the program featured a welcome address from York Faculty of Education Dean Alice Pitt, followed by greetings from Linda McGregor, manager of First Nation, Métis & Inuit Education Initiatives for the Simcoe Muskoka Catholic District School Board; Lisa Ewanchuk, principal of First Nation, Métis & Inuit Education for the Simcoe County District School Board; Jeff Monague, former chief of the Beausoleil First Nation and language teacher at Georgian College; Chris Paci, manager of education & training for the Métis Nation of Ontario; and Patrick Akpalialuk, a representative for Inuit people of the area.

Marg Raynor, a Métis singer-songwriter hailing from the Huronia region in Ontario and a master’s student in York’s Faculty of Education, read an Anishinaabe creation story to the students. After the reading, York education Professor Celia Haig-Brown led the group in an activity. She asked each student to consider their own decolonizing narrative as fundamental to beginning the process of taking relations with one another seriously. Haig-Brown asked participants to imagine peering into the layers of the earth and to envisage the very first footprints made in the earth by indigenous peoples, who for thousands of years walked that land. At some point, she said, they were joined by non-aboriginal people, probably Europeans. On the day of the program’s launch, Haig-Brown said the footprints were layered upon those of others to bring everyone together. Students were then asked by Haig-Brown to consider what paths had led them to this program.

“When we can tell that story, we can begin to see more clearly our relation to this land and to the original peoples of this land. When we recognize our relationships with one another, we can begin a process of decolonizing our understandings of who we are now and what Canada is,” said Haig-Brown in her concluding remarks.

Following Haig-Brown’s exercise with the students, Raynor performed a haunting original ballad to close the launch ceremony. 

Relating the launch to the Ministry of Education’s new policy framework, McGregor said: "We all inherit history. What we do with it is what will make a difference as we move forward together. And this provincewide initiative presents us with a wonderful opportunity to make a difference."

“The infusion is an exciting day for the Métis Nation of Ontario to participate in. Our goal is to provide teacher candidates with awareness about Métis in Ontario, so they can improve the level of knowledge in Ontario’s schools," said Paci. “The infusion at Barrie is part of a larger movement to improve education, one we support wholeheartedly.”

Gary Lipinski, president of the Métis Nation of Ontario said: “As a trained educator myself, I know the value of having Métis teachers in the classroom. York University’s efforts will hopefully increase Métis student recruitment, retention and graduation in teacher education at the Barrie site. Having Métis community participation in the classroom is a very encouraging move.”

For more information on the program, visit York Faculty of Education Web site.