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Indigenous education program launched

September 13, 2016 Jonathan Teghtmeyer, ATA News Editor-in-Chief

ATA executive staff officer Patrick Loyer (right) conducts a smudging ceremony at the beginning of the orientation for Walking Together PD consultants Sept. 6 at Barnett House. (Photo by Yuet Chan)

All teachers to benefit from professional development initiative

A new school year means training for a new job for six professional development (PD) consultants hired by the Alberta Teachers’ Association. The consultants met at Barnett House last week to begin preparations for a $2.5- million project designed to educate all 42,000 Alberta teachers about First Nations, Métis and Inuit (FNMI) history, world views and ways of knowing.


The consultants will develop and deliver the Walking Together: Education for Reconciliation Professional Learning Project to ensure that teachers are ready to meet the foundational knowledge FNMI standards in the new draft Teaching Quality Standard (TQS).

This past June, Alberta Education, the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation, the Alberta Teachers’ Association and four other education stakeholder organizations in Alberta signed a commitment to ensure that all students learn about the history, perspectives and contributions of Canada’s indigenous peoples. Walking Together responds to calls to action 57 and 62 from the federal Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), which call on all levels of government to provide education to public servants on the history of aboriginal peoples, and for age-appropriate curriculum on residential schools and indigenous history.

“We can’t know where we’re going until we know where we’ve been,” said Education Minister David Eggen on the launching of the joint commitment. “This is a positive step forward in Alberta’s commitment that all students learn about the history and legacy of residential schools, along with the histories and vibrant cultures of First Nations, Métis and Inuit people.”

Charlene Bearhead, education lead for the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation, applauded the Alberta government for its quick response to the TRC’s calls to action.

“This joint commitment to action in Alberta is absolutely the most comprehensive process that has been undertaken yet in this country,” said Bearhead.

She also heralded the Alberta Teachers’ Association for its approach to the challenge.

“The work that the Alberta Teachers’ Association is doing is amazing,” said Bearhead. “This is the first time I’ve seen work that is this authentic, to this degree, in the education of teachers.”

The meeting of the Walking Together consultants began with a traditional smudge and the bestowing of a gift of ceremonial tobacco from ATA president Mark Ramsankar to each of the consultants and program staff.

In his greeting to the new consultants, Ramsankar described the project as exciting new territory for the Association.

“To be in the field to educate our members so they understand why this is important and how we can help future generations of teachers be prepared to meet the challenges ahead—it is important work,” he said.

The six consultants will serve for two to three years and deliver programs in one of three treaty areas of the province. All of the consultants are experienced classroom teachers with strong knowledge and experience in indigenous education. They include members of all three of Alberta’s treaty areas and the Métis community. The consultants have either been hired on contract or been seconded from their employer for the term of their contracts.

One of the consultants, Hali Heavy Shield, has taught on the Blood reserve for 10 years with the Kainai Board of Education and is the president-elect of the ATA’s First Nations, Métis and Inuit Education Council.

“I feel it is a responsibility and an honour to carry on the teachings of my ancestors and my grandparents,” said Heavy Shield. “Indigenous knowledge is the foundation of who we are in Canada, so we have a lot to learn especially when it comes to our environment and relationships.”

Heavy Shield feels that teachers are very willing to learn and is confident they will be ready to take on the new standards in the TQS. She is hopeful the project will be able to break stereotypes and prejudices related to Alberta’s ­indigenous people.

Walking Together will engage local FNMI communities by establishing regional advisory committees that include representation from local band leaders and elders. This process will ensure that the PD programs include regionally specific content for teachers.

PD for teachers will include workshops, presentations, webinars, preservice teacher education programs, and a collection of print and online resources for professional learning. The consultants will also train other school board and teacher leaders to deliver PD programs on their own. It is hoped that the first set of presentations will be ready for field testing at teachers’ conventions in early 2017.

A key challenge for the consultantsand for teachers will be in teaching Canada’s history of residential schools, but that will be an essential part of meeting the calls to action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

“It can be very emotional,” said Heavy Shield. “My mom is a residential school survivor.”

“But we definitely don’t want this to repeat again in Canada’s history,” she said. “This is part of educating our educators so our next generation coming up can ensure it won’t happen again.” ❚

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