Exploring Indigenous identities and ways of knowing

The Indigenous Pathways to Employment Program at Bow Valley College is an innovative approach to Indigenous education that supports Truth and Reconciliation. It offers a supportive and non-traditional model that weaves Indigenous ways of knowing, being, and doing in an educational setting. This 52-week program gives students highly interactive learning environment based on the medicine wheel and supports their identity as Indigenous learners.

“This class is all about leadership,” says instructor Joanna Tzavaras, “And, how students can immerse themselves, their experience, their identity, in their community as ambassadors.”

In the program, students acquire academic foundations and learning strategies, workplace communication techniques, problem solving, digital literacy and workplace skills. A current class of seven is learning pre-employment skills by setting careers goal, starting a job search, writing resumes and cover letters, and building a professional, online presence.

Some students like Adriana Yellow Old Woman and Connie Shepherd are focused on finding employment after the program. Adriana wants to support her community by working in the hotel owned by that community. Connie is determined to get her dream job and work at the zoo.

But the program is more than just a pathway to employment. Sienna Snow agrees that the program gives her an opportunity to acquire transferrable leadership and communication skills. “I’ve learned a lot in this class. I want to take that and go out into the world,” she says. Sienna wants to finish school and volunteer in her community.

At the core of the program, self-reflection and goal setting put students on a path to understanding who they are, who they want to be, and what they want to do. Armed with a sense of self, students are empowered to fulfill their dreams. For many of the students in the program, that includes supporting their friends, family, and community with their journey.

“I want to share my own story,” says Tyrene Saddleback. “By doing that, I want to help parents that are going through things like I did, especially single moms.”

Lorna Smoke also has plans to inspire and uplift her community with what she has learned in class. “I have a five-year plan. Once I finish this program, I’m going to take a two-year social work program. I’m in my 60s. I have two grandsons that just came of age, and they graduated from school,” Lorna says. “But after school, they had a hard time finding their way. I’d like to help those young kids that are just leaving home and entering the world. I want to help them get on their feet.”

Most important to this program is implementing and embracing Indigenous ways of knowing in the modern classroom. With the support of local Elders and knowledge keepers, students are introduced to Indigenous ways of knowing, being, and doing. They bring them together with additional learning strategies such as SMART goals, explains Joanna.

“SMART goals are a settler style of teaching. Then we have the medicine wheel, which is an Indigenous way of knowing, being and doing,” says Joanna. “We bring them together in class. Students take their SMART goals – specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely – and then fill in the four sections of the medicine wheel: emotional, physical, spiritual, cognitive.”

For Terri Raine, who has lived her entire life in her small community, learning and living her traditional ways – specifically, learning how to harvest and use traditional medicines – she wants to bridge her knowledge and education from Bow Valley College and bring that back to her community.

“I’m hoping that what I did will inspire my six children. I have gone back to school and want my children to follow, to experience more in life,” says Terri. Following that, she has a bigger goal. “I want to return to my community to teach people how to harvest and use medicine, so that knowledge doesn’t get lost.”

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