Summary of Learning!

Woohoo! We’ve made it to the end of the semester! And that means it’s time to summarize my learning!

Here is the link to my summary of learning video I posted on YT:


Until next time,

Emily Giesbrecht


The story of “Indian Horse”

A novel written by Richard Wagamese.

One of the final events or projects of this course was a reconili-ACTION event in which we would invite friends, family & strangers to an evening of engaging conversations that aimed to mend, repair and speak truths of our collective Canadian history and identity. One of the ways I chose to do this, was through the novel Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese. I chose to focus on challenging the “single story” of the Indigenous peoples of Saskatchewan through literature. Unfortunately we live in a systemically racist society, and in Saskatchewan, some of that racist is aimed towards Indigenous groups. This may be because we (not personally but societally) have made a generalization of who we think these people are, rather than spending the time to listen to them share their story. I am a firm believer in education through literature. Books written by Indigenous authors provide the most authentic and truthful accounts of culture and experience. It is crucial to provide space for contrasting stories to be shared, that challenge the single story narrative. When we read books that are accurate and written first hand, we can gain a deeper understanding of who someone is. In addition, providing a book to someone who adheres to this single story narrative is a way of challenging that belief and allows the reader to keep an open mind whilst reading. By not approaching someone and immediately begin preaching to them, I believe that people remain more receptive and open-minded to what they are reading and being told if it is being presented in a non-threatening way. 

The story in Indian Horsewhile it is a fictional story about a young boy in a residential school & how his life is affected by it; many of the elements of tragedy and hardship echo real-life experiences for the children who were placed in an Indian residential school. The children of these schools were deeply affected, and are still feelings the effects of the abuse and stripping of culture through inter-generational trauma. As a way to heal, we can be creating safe spaces, free of judgement to have their stories heard and understood. Stories, such as Indian Horse, open up my eyes to the atrocities that these children had to endure & I believe that, though uncomfortable, everyone needs to be made aware of these atrocities.

A film has been made about this book, and the author was heavily involved throughout the whole process to ensure that the producers brought Wagamese’s vision of this story to life. The film is being released on Wednesday, April 11 and I would highly recommend for you to check it out! The story is absolutely gripping and is told through a raw, realistic lens.

What are some other ways that we can challenge this single story that is present in Saskatchewan?

Until next time,

Emily Grace.

Combatting racist opinions; a semi-true story.

Imagine a man who is down on his luck, as the world would say. He has just been let go at work. His wife stays at home to care for his two children. Financially, they are struggling; he was not making very much money when he had a job and now, all his financial supports are gone. He loves is wife and children dearly and wants desperately to provide for his family. Finding another job is proving to be extremely difficult as he does not have any post-secondary education and no job is hiring. At this point, the man is at a loss. His family is hungry, they are on the verge of eviction. Motivated to continue supporting his family, he makes a decision that he was uncomfortable with. He is a man of integrity and never wanted things to come this, he tried his best to earn his money honestly but he knows that if he does not do something soon, more trouble awaits. He wishes things could have turned out differently and that he was not forced to live out the unfortunate stereotype of Indigenous people living in this neighbourhood. Guilt-ridden, the man has decided to begin mugging people around his neighbourhood to hopefully fill his pockets. He sees an elderly couple walking down the sidewalk and selects them as his target. His means may be violent but he has successfully mugged the elderly man.

The elderly couple has been deeply affected by this incident, they return to their car and sit in panicked silence. They are shocked, afraid, but thankfully no physical harm came to them. Because of this incident, the elderly couple, especially the elderly man, have become extremely bitter and have drawn their own conclusions on an entire race based on this one incident. The man believes that every Indigenous man is the same; violent, untrustworthy and not worth his time. His attitudes and actions display his feelings and thoughts toward these people. Although he does not know the story of the man who mugged him or any person for that matter, he has created his own story that applies to each Indigenous person.

But what would you do? Driven by desperation and dire need, it seems the actions of the Indigenous man are justified. It also seems like the elderly man’s racist conclusions are also justified due to his experience. My grandfather is the elderly man in this story. I have noticed that my grandfather says some wildly inappropriate things towards Indigenous people, gross generalizations that are absolutely not acceptable. I called him out on these actions and told him that what he was saying is not acceptable and that I would not tolerate such things being said. His reasoning was since he was wronged by one Indigenous man, he can justify all his derogatory comments. I hope that my comments have struck something in his heart, prompting him to change his opinion.

I also recognize that the fictitious backstory of the Indigenous man may not have been accurate. I created this backstory to illustrate that we cannot judge people based on a single event, nor can we judge an entire race based on one person’s actions. This misjudgment is a severe injustice. I do not have the information to accurately tell this man’s story but neither did my grandfather, so he should not have made such a judgement on an entire race.

I believe that racism and prejudice occur in many ways. It may be the way we are socialized and see the world. One could become racist as a result of a single event, as in the case of my grandfather. Bottom line is, that people are very easily influenced and impressionable. Once someone has formed a negative opinion about something or someone, it becomes increasingly difficult to deconstruct that opinion to replace it with something positive. I believe that through education and sharing of accurate stories, rather than prejudiced generalizations, we can move towards a path of reconciliation.

Until next time,

Emily Grace.

Once upon a time…

Sharing the same old stories, the ones we’ve all heard and perhaps have been convinced are truth.

I grew up in a small town, full of middle class, white settlers. I am a young, able-bodied, woman who is really quite privileged. Throughout the duration of my life, I have not been faced with huge amounts of adversity or structural disadvantages that I have been required to overcome and I often forget that this is not the case for everyone. My white privilege is so embedded in the way I live my life, I often mistakenly approach situations assuming everyone is coming from the same place as me in life. So one of the ways that I read the world is through my own experiences. I sometimes find that I insert myself into the midst of, what I assume to be, someone else’s story, mirroring their experiences to my own. As I’ve spent more time in this faculty, the idea that each of our stories is unique and worth telling, has become a growing passion of mine. We all have different experiences and come from different places in life and that is worth sharing.

I was raised in a Christian home with values and beliefs that reflected our faith. Many of the things that I was taught, contrasted with widely accepted norms or discourses that I encountered on a daily basis. These things that I was taught as a child, have left me feeling perhaps bitter towards certain people. Things that I have been taught as a child,  are the very things that we as educators are working to celebrate and support in the classroom. There will always be a part of me, nagging me and reminding me of these beliefs that were placed upon me as a child but as an educator; it is essential for my job to leave such things behind as I enter the classroom to support my students. What I was taught as a child and what I chose to support now may not exactly coincide with one another but I think that is ok. I have been working on “unlearning” or moving beyond these biases that I have been raised to have because I believe that it is absolutely every student’s right to feel accepted and supported in the classroom. If I were to enter a classroom, wearing the lens that I was taught when I was younger, there would be severe injustice in my classroom. I need to become aware of my biases and how they may affect my actions or thoughts toward students. When I am aware of these biases, I can effectively leave them behind so I am properly prepared to teach my students through anti-bias education.

After watching Chimamanda Ngozi Adichi’s Ted talk, on the dangers of a single story, I began to think about how single stories were present in my upbringing. I connected very well with a lot of the points she brought up in her talk. Whenever I would think about Africa, the World Vision or Unicef ads about sponsoring a child would play in my head. In school we would raise money every year at Christmas and purchase items for villages in various countries in Africa. I was only ever exposed to stories of desperation and poverty in Africa. As a result of this, I constructed my own idea of what Africa was. Despite the fact that it is a huge continent, comprised of multiple countries, I felt that I knew it all because all I knew were those stories of people in need. I had some serious unlearning to do.

As I mentioned previously, my small town is full of white settlers, living in nuclear families, very similar to my own. All of the families and people around me, mirrored my own experiences and because of this single story of what a family is, I constructed my understanding of family around that. In school, we did not talk about diverse family structures so I understood that family structures similar to my own, was the only relevant structure. A nuclear family was a good family because it was “normal” and everything else was unfamiliar and  “bad.” Those of us who belonged to the dominant group were the ones whose truths mattered because our experiences were reflected in the norms society has created.

So I have a question for you, what “single stories” were present as you were growing up? How have worked to unlearn these stereotypes?

Until next time,

Emily Grace.


Who’s that girl?

So this week in lecture, Dr. Crooks was talking about constructions of teacher identity. We explored various perspectives of teachers and how their identities are shaped/influenced. Dr. Crooks provided us with a list of things that contribute to the development of our identity, her list included: race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, religion, family, political beliefs, education and of course, occupation & in our case, the occupation would be teaching! When I consider what I think a teacher is, two different answers surface in my mind. One being slightly more superficial and the other is more of the teacher I hope to be one day.

  1. My first consideration of a what a teacher is would be a beautiful, young, white woman in a brightly coloured and highly decorated classroom. She always looks totally put together, wearing heels in the classroom daily. Basically, I think about the visual aspect of a teacher.
  2. My second consideration of a teacher is less about appearance but more about character. A teacher is someone who inspires children and empowers them. This teacher deeply cares for the students in their classroom & works hard to ensure that each student’s needs are met, allowing them to feel valued in the classroom.

The first construction of a teaching identity is likely a result of media and how teacher are portrayed in the movies that I’ve seen. There are so many different kinds of teachers portrayed in films and on tv that I can’t help but think of these kinds of teachers when I consider who a teacher is. The second construction of a teaching identity is likely a result of my studies at the U of R. I have learnt a lot from my professors and teachers in the past 2 years, and many of these things have challenged my previous beliefs of what a teacher is.

In the Yerks reading, she mentions how “wearing shoes that would click when I walked down the hall made me feel like a teacher” (p.6) (Yerks, 2004). She says this is one way that she felt that she fit into the teaching into the teaching discourse. I can certainly relate to what she says here. I’ve experienced many moments where I have thought to myself, “Man, I really feel like a teacher.” Working in a before and after school program provides me with these experiences almost daily. Reading books to kids, leading them in activities, walking them down the hall, etc. All of these things really make me fell like I fit in to this discourse of teaching, despite the fact that I am not yet a certified teacher.

A question that I was left with after lecture was how does our teacher identity change in different areas of school? Are you a different teacher when you are coaching cross country? In the library? Seen by your students in the grocery store perhaps? How does our environment shape our identity as professionals?

Until next time,

Emily Grace.


Exploring the STF website

This week in ECS 200, we had an opportunity to explore the STF’s  website. Prior to the lecture, I had not taken any time to explore the website and I made multiple discoveries!

  1. First thing I learned was that the STF is run by teachers. This is incredibly important because teachers are speaking on behalf of other teachers and wanting to serve their best interests. The executive team of teachers are in the field and in the classroom. They are well aware of how decisions affect the students, classrooms, schools and other teachers.
  2. I learned how to read the salary grid. When I initially looked at it, I thought that since I was a beginning teacher, I would be a class 1, step 1 teacher. However, after Dr. McGowan explained the steps & classes to us, I learned that I am going to be a class 4, step 1 teacher earning $55, 474. I was not surprised about starting wage that I could be potentially earning, however, I was not aware that I would receiving a raise every year.

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    Photo Credit:

  3. I also had the opportunity to explore the different codes that the STF has put in place for teachers in this province. These codes support professionalism in this profession that I’m pursuing. I am encouraged to know that teachers are expected to uphold a certain level of professionalism. We are expected to act in such a way that is respectful to students, other teachers and the profession.

At first, teaching was considered to be a profession that provided a second income for families as it was dominated by women. But thanks to the work of the STF, teaching has become a profession where you can raise a family on.

Something that I found quite troubling was the instability for substitute teachers. All of the benefits, protection and wages are for teachers who have permanent contracts. Once I graduate, I am sure that I will be subbing for quite a while before I am offered a permanent contract and it concerns me that I won’t be able to be a part of the STF or enjoy the benefits despite the fact that I will be doing the work of a teacher.

Until next time,

Emily Grace.

Rethinking everyone’s favourite subject!

This week in ECS 210, we had another guest speaker come and speak to us, Dr. Gale Russell. In lecture, we were talking about everyone’s favourite subject! Can you guess what it is? If you were thinking math, you are correct! After the lecture, I was prompted to reflect on my own experience with mathematical education. As a student, I never really had any extremely strong, negative feelings toward math. It certainly was not a class I was super excited to go to, but because I never really struggled with math, so it was never something I completely dreaded either. As I compared my education to the Western Ideologies that Dr. Russell outlined, I came to realize that they were pretty similar. I always had rigid instruction in my math classes, with only one right way of completing a question. Sometimes, teachers provided an easier option to solve a problem only AFTER the “correct” way was taught. I do not recall any personal exploration of numerical concepts in my education, everything was presented as fact in a lecture format of through questions in a textbook.

However, in my grade seven year, my teacher decided that we were going to work at our own pace. We each received textbook and went through it as we pleased. There was very little formal instruction during these classes and unfortunately for grade seven students, “work at your own pace” can sometimes mean, “do as little as you possibly can…” I am still baffled at how my teacher managed to do this, but I suppose that she trusted us enough to complete the work at a pace that suited us. For some of my peers who really struggled with math, this was an excuse to do very little math throughout that year. In the following years, I think most of us began to regret the little work we did that year because we found ourselves quite behind in grade 8 and 9 math. (Live and learn, I guess)

At the beginning of the first reading, we come across this quote from Leroy Little Bear, “colonialism tries to maintain a singular social order by means of force and law, suppressing the diversity of human worldviews. … Typically, this proposition creates oppression and discrimination” (p. 77) (2000). Although this quote is directly talking about colonialism, I think it is also very applicable to mathematics. As Dr. Russell pointed out, mathematics are typically presented to students with only one method to solve problems. For example, if a student did not understand how to cross-multiply while solving for X, but that was the only method given, that student would struggle immensely. The force and law that is in place to ensure this “single method” method stays in place would be teachers and assessment. I have experienced teachers penalizing students for not using the methods that they were taught, even if the students are able to understand the mathematical concept better when they approach it differently. This suppresses learner diversity within the classroom significantly. Not all students learn the same way. Our brains function and process information in different ways, so why is it that we are only presenting students with one way to approach mathematics? We should be providing space for children to explore mathematical concepts from different viewpoints. We don’t all fit into the same mold, so stop forcing us to do so.

Do you think that math instruction in schools should be re-evaluated? How might we go about creating an environment where all learners and learning styles are valued and represented?

Little Bear, L. (2000). Jagged Worldviews Colliding. Reclaiming Indigenous Voice and Vision (p. 77-85). Vancouver, BC. ProQuest.

Until next time,

Emily Grace.

Injustice in our Justice System.

MMIWG — What does it mean and who does it affect? So for those of you who aren’t aware, MMIWG stands for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. It is an issue affecting many people in Canada and the United States. Many of these disappearances and murders remain open and unsolved, providing very little closure for grieving loved ones.

This week, one of the presentations was on this issue. During the presentation, we were provided with the link to the CBC News Missing and Murdered page. I spent an extensive amount of time scrolling through the profiles and reading the stories of some women who have gone missing or have been murdered. One case that really made me shake my head was the case of Nicole Daniels.

This 16 year old girl was found lying face down in the snow on April 1, 2009. Initially, the police thought her death was suspicious but foul play was eventually ruled out. Her cause of death was hypothermia with acute alcohol intoxication as a contributing factor. I find it really quite interesting that the police were so quick to rule out foul play, despite knowing the following facts about the case:

  • she left the house around 10pm and entered a truck with a middle-aged man
  • presumably, she met the man on a telephone chat line
  • she was underage and did not have money to spend on alcohol so someone needed to supply it in order for that amount to be found in her bloodstream
  • there were bruises and cuts found an various parts of her body including inner thigh, legs, wrists, face & arms
  • her jacket was removed and blouse was unbuttoned; remember, hypothermia was her cause of death…why was she removing her coat if she was freezing??

Although I am NO expert, these details do seem to suggest a bit of foul play. The Winnipeg Police thought differently however, and no further investigation or charges were laid. The family is not happy with how this case was handled, as it still remains unresolved. As a final thought for this case, I would like to leave you with this quote by Nicole’s cousin,

“If you are going to do it, you may as well do it to an Aboriginal girl, because nothing is going to happen to you if you do,” she said. “They’re not held accountable for even the bare minimum of the destruction they cause in people’s lives.”

Unfortunately, I think this quote rings true for our criminal justice system here in Canada, just look at the amount of cases that remain unresolved or receive delayed responses by authorities.

As a class, we came up with some ways that we can create change to see issues such as these being resolved:

  1. Call police out and demand that they do their jobs as thoroughly as possible.
  2. Post more photos and their stories of these women, so these cases become closer to home, rather that statistics.
  3. Creating more public awareness through schools, social media etc.
  4. We need to create a better representation of Indigenous peoples in the media.
  5. Create urgency to have these cases solved and to provide closure for families.

As a closing thought, I would like to leave you with one of the opening quotes from the 2015 Highways of Tears documentary as I think it provides an excellent link from this issue to the bigger picture of the poor treatment of the Indigenous population in Canada:

“The Highway of tears is the nucleus of a much larger problem of how the Indigenous population has been treated since colonialism. These murders aren’t just the work of serial killers but the sad result of systemic and socio-economic issues that have plagued  the First Nations communities for generations.”

Knowing what you now know, what are you going to do to help create change? How are you create awareness of this issue?

Until next time,

Emily Grace.

Cultural Appropriation everywhere…

Cultural appropriation is an incredibly pervasive topic in our society today. We see it in sports teams, fashion, art, festivals and chip bags… Last week, I had the opportunity to give a presentation to my class on cultural appropriation in the context of Indigenous peoples of Canada. I am aware that this issue is far more broad than just Indigenous peoples of Canada, but I felt that this topic suited our purposes better. In Chelsea Vowel’s book, she defines cultural appropriation as “Someone who is not part of a specific culture (in Vowel’s case, it is First Nation and Métis culture) using or wearing restricted symbols from that specific culture & has little knowledge of the meaning or importance of said symbol; therefore cheapening the symbol & achievement” (Vowel, 2016). Restricted symbols are symbols of importance because of what is represents and those who are allowed to wear them have fulfilled the criteria to do so (Vowel, 2016). Some symbols are not restricted because they do not represent such prestigious achievements. In my presentation, I mentioned that symbols are cheapened but I did a poor job on explaining why this occurs.  Vowel also says that wearing these symbols cheapens the achievement for others and I really like how she explains it on her blog:

“Those who earned the symbol would still know what they did, and that would never go away, but part of the power of a symbol is what it says to others.  These kinds of symbols are not for our own, personal recognition of our achievements alone.  They say, “here is a visual representation of the honour bestowed upon this person for their achievement”.  When everyone is running around with a copy of that symbol, then it is easy to forget that some people have to earn it and that it means something” (Vowel, 2012).

Over Christmas break, I purchased a new pair of boots, some Manitobah Mukluks. img_5142.jpgInitially, I was very apprehensive about purchasing these boots. I am not an Indigenous person, I am a German settler descendant, and I did not feel that I could wear the boots. Eventually I decided that me wearing these boots would not be cultural appropriation (or at least I really hoped it wouldn’t be). Later in the semester, I was exploring Chelsea Vowel’s blog and I came across a list of Indigenous artists who create authentic pieces and want to share that piece of their culture with others. I was relieved when I saw Manitobah Mukluks on that list and from then on I’ve been wearing my mukluks proudly!

I believe that one reason that this issue still exists in our society is many people are not aware if the importance of some symbols, they remain ignorant; perhaps by chance or by choice. I believe that is the job of the educated to raise awareness for issues such as these so achievements can be honoured, not cheapened and cultures will be respected and not appropriated. As I future teacher, I hope to educate my students on the importance of respecting other cultures and I hope that we will spend time learning together about different Indigenous cultures so that together we can raise awareness to those around us. After all, when we stay silent about issues like this, we are siding with the powerful…

Resources to learn more:

Native Appropriations Think Before You Appropriate,  The Critical Fashion Lover’s Guide to Cultural Appropriation

Vowel, C. (2017). Indigenous writes: a guide to First Nations, Métis & Inuit issues in Canada. Vancouver, B.C.: Langara College.

(2013). The do’s, don’ts, maybes, and I-don’t-knows of cultural appropriation. Web. Retrieved March 10, 2018 from 

Until next time,

Emily Grace.

School to Prison Pipeline — What can we do?

I was not able to make it to the lecture this week due to the crazy snow storm that we were dealing with but once the slides were posted, I took a look at them and went through the assigned readings for the week.

In the first reading by Michael Apple, I was surprised to read that schools control meaning and what we consider “legitimate knowledge.” This was not something I had really considered prior to this reading. Although, as I thought about it, it made more sense to me. The subjects that students are taught in school are given a huge priority in terms of important knowledge. When I consider my education, arbitrary math, english and science were given precedence over “life skills” for example. I think it is accurate to say that in a class of 30, we are teaching the ones who plan on going to post-secondary and therefore that knowledge is valued over life skills in the classroom. I also found the statistics given on the last slide absolutely staggering. These stats just reinforce the belief that we still have a long way to go to combat the systemic racism that exists within our society.

My placement this semester was at Paul Dojack a youth correctional centre. After learning about the school to prison pipeline, I was able to connect that to my work at the youth centre. In the girls dorm where I was volunteering, there would usually be around 3-6 girls at any given time. Of those 6(ish), Over half would be young Indigenous girls. On the last day I was there, there were 5 Indigenous girls and 1 white girl. I could clearly see that the incarceration rate for Indigenous peoples was higher than white incarceration rates. When we watched that video of the summary of the study done on teachers watching preschool children and spent more time watching the black child, even though the children were just actors. We watched a more in-depth video on this study in my 210 seminar and was reminded of how we as teacher may not even be aware of our biases.

One question I still have is how to we work to fix this problem? What can we do to get Indigenous youth out of correctional centres and into environment that will support their education?

Apple, Michael W. 1979. Ideology and Curriculum. London: Routledge. pp. 63–64.

Until next time,

Emily Giesbrecht