Decrease font size Reset font size Increase font size

Indigenous Education Month spotlight: Jennifer Brant

November 20, 2018

By Kaitlyn Balkovec and Marianne Lau 


November 1 marks the start of Indigenous Education Month. Throughout this month, OISE News will spotlight Indigenous people from the OISE community who are doing work in Indigenous education. Through these conversations, we’ll explore the question: ‘How can Indigenous education advance justice for Indigenous peoples?’

Next up is Jennifer Brant, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Curriculum, Teaching and Learning. Dr. Brant is from the Mohawk Nation and has family ties to Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory and Six Nations of the Grand River Territory.

As a teacher of future teachers, Dr. Brant believes that educators have a powerful role to play in advancing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s Calls to Action. She recently sat down with OISE News to explain why.

Tell us about your work in Indigenous education.

My work in Indigenous education is only a small part of a very large and diverse area of work that centres Indigenous worldviews in academia. Currently, I am an assistant professor in the Master of Teaching program at OISE, where I teach future educators how to incorporate Indigenous perspectives into their classrooms.

This is important because for a very long time Indigenous content was left out of education altogether or presented in harmful and stereotypical ways. As a child in school, I never saw reflections of my cultural identity, family, traditions, or vast contributions of Indigenous communities. As an undergraduate student, whenever Indigenous content was presented – which was rare – it was done so in stereotypical ways. I am committed to changing this reality.  

In my classroom, I bring in Indigenous content to showcase the strength and beauty of our cultures and worldviews, as well as to promote antiracist education. One way that I do this is by presenting Indigenous literatures as a teaching tool to foster cross-cultural understandings, empathy, and compassion.

I also incorporate lessons on recent issues that have led to the fractured relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples in Canada. These include violence against Indigenous women and girls, institutional racism, cultural appropriation, and discrimination against Indigenous children

Because I teach difficult topics, it is important for me to create an ethical and safe classroom environment for dialogue that can be both emotionally and intellectually challenging. This is particularly important for Indigenous learners considering the tensions that can arise with these difficult topics. To do this, I use Indigenous Maternal Pedagogies – a framework that draws from Indigenous and women centred worldviews to establish nurturing and nourishing spaces of engagement.

What do you hope this work will achieve?

Positioning education as a vehicle to advance social justice for Indigenous peoples is my way of responding to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s Calls to Action. Teachers have a valuable role to play in creating change by teaching in ways that are more inclusive, authentic, and respectful of the shared history of Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples. I hope to provide future teachers with the tools they need to feel comfortable and confident to educate their students in a way that truly advances the commission’s Calls to Action.

What brought you to this work?

As a graduate student at Brock University, I was interested in understanding the barriers Indigenous women face in education. I started by looking at my own experience, and then those of other Indigenous women.

My research revealed that Indigenous women face multifaceted and multilayered structural barriers to education, such as institutional racism, and a lack of culturally relevant curriculum and family support services.

These findings prompted me to partner with Brock University’s Tecumseh Centre for Aboriginal Research and Education to develop the Gidayaamin Aboriginal Women’s Certificate Program, a one-year university transition program for Indigenous women. The program was designed to foster a culturally relevant and holistic system of support to assist Indigenous women in achieving their full academic potential. As a part of this, we ensured that the programming met the educational desires of the women who had participated in my research. This included the inclusion of Indigenous content that was relevant to their cultural identities and realities as well as access to Elders and Traditional Knowledge Keepers. 

I saw many of the program’s graduates become more engaged in their communities through engagement, advocacy and activism. For example, some began to organize on-campus events while others had their work published in a book I co-edited entitled Forever Loved: Exposing the Hidden Crisis of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls in Canada. This is where I began to see that culturally-relevant Indigenous curriculum had important, positive effects that extend far beyond classrooms.

Can you share with us a person, experience or thing that has contributed to your commitment in doing this work?

I gather inspiration from Indigenous academics who have paved the way and I am humbled to follow this path. Before Indigenous pedagogies were acknowledged in mainstream educational settings, these first and second wave of Indigenous academics worked tirelessly to create these spaces.

There is still a long way to go and as I follow this path I am committed to doing this work in a way that will benefit Indigenous communities and contribute to a shifting landscape within education. Here at OISE, I’m also humbled to follow the path of Indigenous faculty who have carved out significant inroads within Indigenous education. It is an honour to now work with, and learn from, a team of tremendous scholars.

Dr. Jennifer Brant is Assistant Professor of Indigenous Education and Literatures in the Department of Curriculum, Teaching and Learning at OISE. She is currently teaching Indigenous Experiences of Racism and Settler Colonialism in Canada: An Introduction. Next semester, she will be teaching a graduate seminar, Indigenous Maternal Pedagogies: Teaching for Reconciliation.

Indigenous Education Month Spotlight: