Cohort of First Nations teachers aims to improve education

Posted on Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Brandi Benedict, Joanne Jocko and Lauren Barbour

(From left to right) Brandi Benedict, Joanne Jocko and Lauren Barbour were among several graduates of uOttawa's ATEP.

By Mike Foster

Given the recent publication of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report, several graduates from uOttawa’s Aboriginal Teacher Education Program (ATEP) are all the more determined to make a difference in their communities.

Graduates from Akwasasne, Walpole Island and Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg will go on to teach and improve education.

Joanne Jocko, who has earned a Certificate in Aboriginal Teacher Education, says she now plans to pursue a bachelor’s degree and then a master’s degree in education. Her ultimate goal is to teach in her Mohawk community of Akwasasne, “to carry on our language,” she says.

“My father did not attend residential schools, but in his community, the schools were run by the Jesuits. He used to be beaten for speaking his own language. He quit school at the age of 15 and went to work on the railroad. Education was very important to him, especially since he had to drop out, which is why he encouraged me to continue my education,” wrote Johanne Jocko in an email.

Lauren Anne Barbour, who is Métis and originally from Manitoba, took courses part-time over two years while she was caring for her three children, aged 7, 10 and 13. She currently works as a supply teacher for the Western Quebec School Board, which has a large number of students from First Nations communities. She says she undertook the ATEP to gain a new perspective on how to teach children from First Nations and Inuit communities, and she hopes to secure a full-time job.

Barbour, who has previous degrees in linguistics and applied languages and anthropology from Carleton University, has also worked on projects for the Métis National Council of Women.

“I left the workforce to be a parent. When I was considering going back into the workforce, I looked at where I had spent a lot of my time over the last 10 years. It was in the schools, volunteering, sitting on committees at the board level. I thought, ‘do what you love and love what you do’. It seemed a natural progression to take my volunteering to the next step and become a classroom teacher,” says Barbour.

Barbour described two of the best aspects of her ATEP experience, namely a placement at the Ottawa Inuit Children’s Centre, where she learned about Inuit culture, and having First Nations professors.

“The program is all about learning to teach Aboriginal peoples from an Aboriginal perspective. That means working alongside students, showing and demonstrating, not up in front of the classroom, telling them,” says Barbour.

Lauren Ann Barbour, Brandi Benedict and Cheryl Swamp earned Bachelor of Education degrees, and Joanne Jocko, Autumn Wahioronkohe Oakes, Eli Snake, Norman Robert McGraw and Sarah Côté earned the Certificate in Aboriginal Teacher Education.

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