The Birth of a Teacher

tânsi. Hello! It is with great triumph and excitement that I share I am at the end of my After Degree in Education. Welcome to my learning journey. Claudine nitisiyihkâson. I am nehiyaw/Cree from onihcikiskowapowin located in Treaty 6 Territory. Although I am entering my first year as a teacher, I consider myself to be a lifelong student and learner. I am excited to share with our Tea and Bannock readers my experiences and insights as I learn and grow through my experiences as an Indigenous Educator in Alberta.

To begin, I just want to share how I came to be to this point as new teacher, as it’s not something I thought I would be doing as a young person.

I am only just starting my career in my 30’s and it’s a world away from the route I had originally intended in my early 20’s.

School had always come easy to me. I was lucky and my voracious love of reading allowed me to have a lot of background knowledge needed to excel academically (aka I was book smart and not life smart, as my family and friends liked to tease me about). One thing that sticks out to me throughout my childhood is that I rarely had a Cree or other Indigenous teacher. We had our Cree class teachers, but apart from them, none of the staff were (visibly) Indigenous, not even the support staff. During my high school years, my teachers started telling me that I should become a teacher and at the time all I could think was, “No, I do not belong there,” “No I can’t do it,” etc. I didn’t realize I had internalized the lack of representation as something concrete – “Natives don’t become teachers.”

Despite all of my academic success, it was still a shock to my systems when I moved to the big city of Edmonton to pursue my undergraduate degree. It took me six (6!) long years to get my Bachelor of Science in Computer Science. It was hard, and I hated the city. I missed my rez, I missed my family and my then-boyfriend’s family (now husband). I missed feeling safe, which I never felt in Edmonton. I was the only Native student in nearly all of my classes, especially the science and math ones. One time I walked into one of my classes and there was a group of 5 young white men sitting in there, and they were talking loudly about how Natives never have to work. I didn’t go to class that day. I was lucky to have the Aboriginal Student Education Centre while at MacEwan because it created a family and a community that I needed. I also had trouble getting jobs, not because I was ill-suited for hiring or a bad worker or interview badly. I worked to keep my “rez accent” at bay. One of the times I did get a job, I found out (in a rude, hurtful way from my supervisor) that they hired me as an Indigenous scholarship and not as an actual employee. By the end of my time in Edmonton, I did feel quite beaten down as a young Indigenous woman. I was someone very privileged, and someone who had all the support of my big family, a strong friend and support base, good marks, was “well spoken and read,” intelligent, and still – Edmonton made me feel like a “dirty Indian.” The worst part of it all was how covert it was, as racism usually is. I can hardly imagine how hard it is for those Indigenous folks who do not have the same privileges that I went to the city with, and the challenges they persevere through.

With my fresh degree in hand, I found out quite quickly that there was not any Software Developer jobs in my rez, or in the nearby small town. I also loathed to move back to Edmonton, despite my computer science friends and school peers reaching out to me with job opportunities. Eventually, in 2016, I found myself working as the Admin-Assistant and Receptionist at our local rez High School, Kihew Asiniy Education Centre. Finally, a school with Indigenous teachers! My favourite part of the job, other than the representation and cultural connections they had there, was the kids, of course! I loved interacting with them daily, seeing them every morning, lunch, breaks, and end of the day. Heck, I even loved it when they were sent to the office (no matter what the reason) because it gave me a chance to chat with them (ha). At KAEC, I also found a work support that I had not experienced before. My admin team was kind to me, and gave me tools to succeed at the job. The staff still welcome me back with open arms (at a distance now, thanks to Covid-19). I remember feeling jealous of the teachers, going into their classrooms with the kids and I realized I needed to do just that – be in the classrooms with the kids of our community. Thanks to the staff there (Pam, Becky, Mel, late Harry, Alison, Linda, Claudine nekweme, and many others), I was able to finally visualize myself as a teacher, and their belief in me got me to where I am today.

I had my daughter that year, and she only pushed my passion for becoming a teacher. Finally in 2018, I started my After Degree in ATEP (Aboriginal Teacher Program) through the University of Alberta. Our classes were delivered through Portage College. The biggest gift of this program, apart from me feeling as prepared as I would feel from any other program, were the mentors I was able to meet and connect with.

Cree ladies who obtained their PhDs and truly make me believe that anything is possible, and who became my aunties.

I wish I could time travel and tell little me that hey, its going to be okay. I will speak more into the program on a different post.

This fall, I will be teaching. I am so passionate about letting the little boys and girls seeing a version of themselves in the classroom, to see an aunty, kin, and relation who is just as capable of that role as any other teacher they’ve had. I am ready for the challenges I will face, and I am so happy to say that I am at the very start of a long learning journey.

– claudine

3 thoughts on “The Birth of a Teacher”

  1. That’s so exciting to hear and congratulations on becoming a teacher! We need more diversity and representation for the kids who look up to teachers of various backgrounds, and to break down the colonialism entailed in the image of what a “teacher” is.


  2. This is so hartwarming (and bitter) and beautifully put. I am so happy for you!
    I have also started my education career late in life – had the opportunity to teach college students in the West Indies, and later, adults in social services in Canada – but am not teaching now because I do not have the “right” credentials, and well, COVID-19! As a black woman/immigrant teen then, who was book smart, but not career driven, I wish that I could heal my younger self, so that girl could have seen herself as a teacher and a whole person. Again, this post touched me… thank you for sharing a piece of your story. I am happy that more and more Indigenous folx are representing in education, though it is still a struggle.

    Liked by 1 person

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