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Alberta teacher wins national award

October 24, 2017 Cory Hare, ATA News Managing Editor

I’d love for every child who is Indigenous — First Nations, Métis or Inuit — to put their hand up and do it proudly.

–Billie-Jo Grant, award-winning teacher 

An Alberta teacher is among 10 recipients of a national Indigenous educator award.

Billie-Jo Grant, a teacher with Greater St. Albert Catholic
Schools, won a Guiding the Journey: Indigenous Educator Award in the “role model” category.

“Receiving this award was an incredible honour. The day I received the call I started crying because I could not believe that there were professionals across Canada that chose me as an inspiring educator in Indigenous education,” Grant stated via email.

“There are so many amazing people that are doing exceptional work in this area and to be considered one of them was overwhelming.

The award is from Indspire, an Indigenous-led non-profit organization that invests in the education of Indigenous people. The annual award program aims to acknowledge educators who have innovative and impactful teaching practices, advocate for resources and culturally based curricula, and help Indigenous students reach their full potential.

A teacher for more than 20 years, Grant delivers three Indigenous workshops as a member of the instructor corps of the Professional Development program area of the Alberta Teachers’ Association. She currently teaches the RISE (respectful, inclusive, supported education) program at Vincent J. Maloney Catholic Junior High School in St. Albert.

Grant serves on her division’s First Nations, Métis and Inuit committee and is a leader in raising staff awareness of Indigenous issues, states one of the nomination letters submitted on her behalf. Grant facilitated her school’s first blanket ceremony last year and also shared the experience with every school in the division as well as staff at her division’s office.

She also led 500 students through the nationally known Project of Heart, in which students learn about residential schooling and draw their responses on small tiles that are made into a collage. Through this project, Grant awakened students’ minds to the heartache and loss that Indigenous people suffered during the times of residential schools, states another nomination letter written by a colleague.

“She has truly helped our students to have a more clear understanding of the truth,” the letter states.

“Billie-Jo’s leadership in our school district is truly a gift to all who are blessed to learn with and from her. She leads with such passion and compassion that it is hard not to want to follow.

Grant's leadership in Indigenous issues got a boost in the summer of 2016 when she attended an Indigenous relations conference in Winnipeg. She came away with a desire to focus on the calls to action that emerged from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

“Responding to the Truth and Reconciliation calls to action is not only a professional responsibility for me but also a personal journey,” she said. “I was never a Métis child and I am now learning what it means to be a proud Métis woman.

Grant elaborated that being Métis wasn’t celebrated when she was young. There was a fair amount of dysfunction around me … until I started meeting positive role models, then I did embrace who I was,” she said.

Grant said she regularly encounters students who are hesitant to acknowledge or embrace their Indigenous heritage, just as she was when she was younger, but she’s sensing that is starting to change.

“I’d love for every child who is Indigenous — First Nations, Métis or Inuit — to put their hand up and do it proudly,” she said. ❚

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