By Sherryl Maglione (Miss Magz), Cowichan Campus, ABE English Instructor, Vancouver Island University
As an Aboriginal educator, teaching Aboriginal students has, over time and very simply, become my focus, passion, and life’s work. My life’s journey as an Aboriginal educator, through service to others, has been professionally and personally fulfilling, and is yet still evolving. For instance, as my intertwined educational and life’s journey progresses, I become more aware of the magnitude of wrongs that exist in the history and in the ongoing legacy of Aboriginal education in Canada. There is no doubt that these wrongs and deleterious related effects are still evident today. These effects are most quantitatively and visibly demonstrated by the gap between Aboriginal and mainstream high school student graduation rates, post-secondary attendance numbers and limited success rates, and high unemployment figures among Aboriginal populations in Canada. As an Aboriginal woman whom the teaching profession has chosen, one of critical wrongs that I am attempting to change, through my past, present, and future actions, is the legacy of residential school Aboriginal education.
I approach this task in the most humble and grateful way that will bring honour to the teaching profession and to Aboriginal students and their education. Through engaging in positive action, creating harmonious relationships, understanding and encouraging development of their Aboriginal identity, and indigenizing the language arts curriculum through the use of extensive First Nation resources, I am actively dedicated to facilitating hope in my students’ lives.
As an Aboriginal educator, I can do no less than reaffirm my commitment, every single day, and with every interaction with students and staff, to providing the Aboriginal students I serve and teach with positive choices that will help build their skill set as they move through adult upgrading and eventually, to achieve post-secondary success. As I cast an eye back to the past, and attempt to sequence my life’s journey and how I chose to become an educator, I have come to believe that there is a higher power in all our lives and that power for me is embodied in the Aboriginal concept of the Creator. We are where we are and do what we do for a reason. With all my heart, I believe that the Creator’s plan for me is to walk the path of educating Aboriginal students.
As an Aboriginal educator, I have taken and continue to take up the Creator’s challenge with a dedicated heart and lifelong commitment to facilitating success for my Aboriginal students. However, my role is not only that of the teacher, but also of a student, as the students that I have met along my journey have also been my teachers. My ‘teachers’ have taught me the embodiment of The Seven Teachings: Wisdom, Respect, Bravery, Honesty, Humility, Truth, and Love.
In addition to teaching me patience, humour, and empathy, my teachers have also taught me how to understand and deal with their stress and frustration through encouraging them to try their best, approaching each challenge with a humble heart, and remaining courageous in the face of obstacles.
Finally, I continue to discover, reflect, and discuss the process of finding my own fit as an Aboriginal woman and educator. I also speak of the challenges inherent in the journey of being an Aboriginal teacher whose main purpose is, through miyopimatisowin, practicing a good way of living.
Living in a good way means serving my First Nation students by helping them create hope and build dreams for their future, because “dreams mobilize your students. If you do nothing else, provide hope for the future.” (Eric Jensen, Teaching With Poverty In Mind, 2009, p. 117)
It is my dedicated intent as an Aboriginal educator, through service, to help my students uncover and discover their dreams in order that they will be able to live a wonderful life for themselves and their children and grandchildren. Ekosi!