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Dr. Jennifer Brant

Teachers have a powerful role to play

Indigenous scholar motivates students to enact TRC Calls to Action

November 16, 2017 — 

When exploring with students the dark and emotionally charged subject of residential schools, Dr. Jennifer Brant focuses on the powerful role teachers play in enacting the Truth and Reconciliation’s (TRC) Calls to Action.

“I want to do this in a way that we all feel engaged, and in a way that we all move forward toward achieving reconciliation together,” Brant says, adding that she encourages her students to consider aligning their work with the Calls to Action in their future roles as teachers.

“There’s a rippling effect with what happens in the classroom, and what happens outside of the classroom and in the community.”

To motivate her students, Brant summons the words of TRC chair, Murray Sinclair, “Education has gotten us into this mess, and education will get us out.”

To that end, seven of the TRC’s 94 Calls to Action relate to education, including delivering curriculum that promotes cross-cultural dialogue, empathy, compassion, antiracist education, and mutual respect.

“There’s a rippling effect with what happens in the classroom, and what happens outside of the classroom and in the community.”

As the Faculty of Education’s new Indigenous scholar in the department of Curriculum, Teaching and Learning, Brant is connected to the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte, Tyendinaga Mohawk territory, Ontario on her grandfather’s side. And, on her grandmother’s side, she is connected to the Six Nations community. She completed her undergraduate, Bachelor or Arts, MEd, and last month, successfully defended her PhD at Brock University.

Her work concentrates on Indigenous maternal pedagogy, researching Indigenous and woman-centred teaching and learning approach. Brant draws on ceremonial aspects of Indigenous culture, Indigenous women’s literature and ways educators can decolonize and Indigenize the academy. She describes her approach as one that’s student-centred and nurturing, promoting both empathy and compassion, but also encouraging students to become agents of social change.

Teaching at Brock University for six years as a sessional instructor, Brant established her classrooms as a safe space for her students to share their stories about their experiences of colonization and its effects.  

Forever loved : exposing the hidden crisis of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls in Canada

Brant co-edited Forever Loved: Exposing the hidden crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in Canada

“I’ve had some students refer to my classroom as being like a sharing circle, where they felt safe to bring in their experiences of how colonization has affected their families,” she says, adding that Indigenous and non-Indigenous students learn from each other.

“When I talk about materials such as the ’60s scoop, or residential schools, the Indigenous students could speak to how that affected their own families. It was really eye-opening for the non-Indigenous learners, some of them learning this material for the first time,” she says, adding that newcomers to Canada could relate to some of the values of Indigenous worldviews, and in some cases, share an experience of colonization in another country.

In assignments, Brant encourages students to make a personal connection to what is taught in class, asking them to reflect on course material and discussions, as well as their own personal reflections.

“They’re tying in course themes with a poem that we read in class, or a piece of literature, and connecting that to a larger Indigenous issue that’s happening outside of the classroom,” Brant says. “And I want them to ask themselves: What does that mean to them?”

Brant points to successes with students she taught in a program called Gidayaamin, a certificate program for Indigenous women, ranging in age from teens to grandmothers, who wish to pursue university studies.

Some of the students pursued graduate and undergraduate studies, two of them have published works, including a poem in the book that Brant co-edited on murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls. Other students organize as community activists, drawing attention to issues.

“You can see where they are learning something in a class and then they’re taking it upon themselves to extend that education outward in the community,” Brant says.

the Teachings of the Seven Grandfathers

Dr. Brant speaks to Winnipeg School Division students about the the Teachings of the Seven Grandfathers on Thurs., Nov. 16.

One comment on “Teachers have a powerful role to play

  1. Victoria McIntosh

    Thank you, Meegwetch for sharing this article. I am a survivor of the residential school at Fort Alexander, Manitoba. I am entering my first year in Education(senior years). We definitely need these supports put in place, not only for our students, but students in the University Departments who have experienced r.s. or have been affected. Now that I am learning the job practicum aspect of teaching, I need this support more than ever. I am looking forward to completing my degree, and wish I had my Mother here to share this. She started her journey last year, and I know she will be with me in spirit, as she was also a survivor as well as her father. Thank you for sharing. Meegwetch.

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