School Notes: VJM teacher wins Indigenous award

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Teacher award at VJM

Teacher Billie-Jo Grant never got a chance to grow up Métis.

Now, the Vincent J. Maloney teacher has received a national award for her efforts to teach St. Albert students about Canada’s Indigenous history.

Indspire, a national charity that supports Indigenous education, announced last week that Grant was one the 10 recipients of this year’s Guiding the Journey: Indigenous Educator Awards, winning in the Role Model category.

The award recognizes individuals who have innovative teaching practices, advocate for culturally based curricula, and help Indigenous students reach their full potential.

“These educators are exemplary in their innovation and dedication to supporting First Nation, Inuit, and Métis children and youth,” said Indspire president Roberta Jamieson in a press release.

“They are creating lasting change in the communities they serve and enriching the field of Indigenous education through their contributions.”

A teacher for 20 years (five of which have been at VJM), Grant spearheaded Project of Heart at VJM earlier this year, which saw hundreds of students create a mural out of tiny painted wooden tiles to learn about residential schools, as well as the recent Orange Shirt Day event. She’s also shown students how to make bannock and dreamcatchers, and led them to paint messages like “love” and “hope” on stones in St. Albert’s healing garden.

On a district level, Grant is a member of the Greater St. Albert Catholic board’s Indigenous advisory committee, and has led numerous blanket exercises on residential school history. She helped craft an Indigenous literacy kit for the district, and is featured in one of the City of St. Albert’s Canada 150 Legacy Stories videos on YouTube.

Teachers have an obligation under the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to learn more about the residential schools, said VJM principal Greg Lamer. Grant has been at the forefront of Indigenous awareness efforts at VJM, and is a champion for inclusiveness in general.

“She’s a really passionate, dedicated teacher,” he said, one who’s skilled at building relationships with kids and parents.

Surprisingly, Grant said she didn’t really start exploring her Métis roots until about two years ago.

“For me growing up, I was never allowed to be a Métis child,” she said. Her parents and grandparents didn’t celebrate their culture, and she got the message that being Métis was not a point of pride.

Grant said a meeting with Doreen Lesperence, a proudly Métis woman who works with young offenders in Edmonton, encouraged her to look into her culture and St. Albert’s history. The more she learned, the more determined she became to share that knowledge with others.

“For me, it’s really about awakening hearts and minds,” she said.

“How did we grow up and not know this history, this rich, vibrant history?”

Grant said she wept with joy earlier this month when she learned of her award. The award comes with a certificate and $1,000, which she planned to use to bolster her teaching efforts.

“I really want our youth to be able to stand up and say they’re proud to be First Nations, they’re proud to be Métis, they’re proud to be Inuit.”

Grant said this whole process had been a professional and personal journey for her, one that saw her take many courses on Indigenous history and pursue her master’s in religious education.

“I’m learning what it’s like to be a proud Métis woman.”

Grant will receive her award Dec. 1 in Montreal as part of the Indspire National Gathering for Indigenous Education conference.

Spooky food drive

Grant is coincidentally involved with a VJM student’s push to turn Halloween in into a food drive.

VJM Grade 9 student Taylor Pukanich is rallying staff, students and neighbours to collect food donations instead of candy this Halloween as part of the WE Scare Hunger campaign – a national initiative of WE Charity (the folks behind WE Day). It’s the first time the school has participated in this event.

Pukanich said she took part in this food drive at her old school and decided to bring it to VJM this year. She hopes to get about 16 volunteers to go door-to-door with her in the Lacombe neighbourhood this Halloween to collect donations for the St. Albert Food Bank.

“We’re trick-or-treating for food, basically.”

Grant said she had encouraged her a bit, but that all the organization, presentations, and lobbying for this project had been done by Pukanich.

Pukanich said she hoped to collect about three pickup-trucks worth of food. Donations can also be dropped off at VJM or the Greater St. Albert Catholic district office.

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Kevin Ma

Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.