Saskatchewan·FIRST PERSON

As a teacher, here are the ways I see the Indigenization of classrooms unfolding

As a young Indigenous girl, I attended a school that did not reflect who I was. It is a past that can not be changed. But now, as an Indigenous advocate, I am looking forward to what can be changed for future students — the true Indigenizing of our schools and classrooms, something that is long overdue. 

Indigenizing and decolonizing education is for the good of all students

Jessica Madiratta says that as an Indigenous teacher, she's finding ways to connect students with their culture. (Submitted by Jessica Madiratta)

This First Person piece was written by Jessica Madiratta, an Indigenous advocate teacher for the Regina Public School Board.

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This piece was originally published on March 17, 2021.


As a young Indigenous girl, I attended a school that did not reflect who I was. It is a past that can not be changed. But now, as an Indigenous advocate, I am looking forward to what can be changed for future students — the true Indigenizing of our schools and classrooms, something that is long overdue. 

When I was in high school, I helped to organize an Indigenous event with an ally teacher and group of students. We had brought in an elder to speak and ordered some bannock for students to eat as they listened. One of my other teachers had asked me what that greasy bread was that was being served in the auditorium. I had to explain it was a food of my people.

As a classroom teacher and later, as an Indigenous advocate, I gave a lot of thought on how I could integrate Indigenous knowledge and experience into the classroom.

We have come a long way since I was a student navigating the school system. With parental permission, students can participate in smudging ceremonies within their schools. We have many Indigenous educators that are graduating from university and coming into the school systems with a wealth of knowledge on how to decolonize and Indigenize their classrooms. 

Today's students have an opportunity to see picture books with characters that look just like them and that teach about Indigenous ways of knowing and being.

I recently read the story The Giving Tree by Leah Dorion, a traditional Michif story, to my students.

Afterwards, students were asked to draw their own interpretation of the giving tree. One student had drawn a person placing tobacco down by a tree as an offering, showing he had absorbed the lessons from the story. 

I am filled with pride when I see a young girl proudly show me a ribbon skirt, or when a Grade 3 student finishes making a Métis vest and says "I am going to go home today and tell my family about the Métis!". 

The residential school system aimed to take that pride away from students. It warms my heart to see students and their parents embracing the teaching of culture in schools today.

We don't do this work alone. We need allies, including the teachers and principals who are supportive of these efforts. I encourage settler teachers to learn more about Indigenous peoples so they can bring that knowledge into the classroom.

Follow Indigenous educators on social media and learn more that way (face it, most of us spend way too much time scrolling on Twitter anyway).

We have a long way to go to Indigenize education for the benefit of all students, who should know and understand our history. 

We need to have Indigenous elders involved in all processes. We need to get out on the land with our students. We need to revitalize Indigenous languages with the same funding and support given to the French language. We need book collections with a wide variety of Indigenous authors and topics. And we need to recognize the genocide that has happened to Indigenous people and the lasting intergenerational trauma that continues to impact Indigenous communities.

But we also must all teach students how strong Indigenous people are. If I could yell it from the rooftops, I would. Despite the devastating impact of the residential school systems and Sixties Scoop and the fact the Indian Act continues to control Indigenous lives, our people are working hard to keep their languages, attend ceremonies, and pursue further education. 

I want to instill children with the knowledge their Indigenous identity deserves to be celebrated, and that they can overcome the negative stereotypes perpetuated in social media and on comment boards. 

I want them to know that nothing can hold them back from achieving the hopes they had for themselves — just as I was once a young girl with the hope to be a teacher — a reality I live now in pursuing the true Indigenization and decolonization of education.


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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jessica Madiratta is both Indigenous and Polish, and works as an Indigenous Advocate teacher for the Regina Public Schools. She has a Bachelor of Education, Bachelor of Arts with a major in Indigenous Studies and a Master's degree in Curriculum and Instruction, and is currently a PhD student at the University of Regina. She's interested in exploring teacher professional development in culturally responsive pedagogy.

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