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OISE's Robertson Program launches teacher placement initiative with Aroland First Nation

October 25, 2019

By Zachary Pedersen  


WATCH: OISE teacher candidates join The Robertson Program on a trip to the Johnny Therriault Memorial School in Aroland First Nation to learn about its teaching practices and meet with staff, students and members of the Aroland community.

The Robertson Program has launched a new initiative to give teacher candidates in the Master of Arts in Child Study and Education program an opportunity to gain experience teaching in a First Nation school in northern Ontario. Our long-time educational partner, the Johnny Therriault Memorial School in Aroland First Nation, will host four teacher candidates beginning in April 2020. 

To prepare for this experience, aspiring teachers Meredith Dodds, Vanessa Ius, Natali Juriansz and Walker Kitchens travelled from Toronto to Aroland First Nation this past October for a two-day orientation. 

Their first day began with an introduction to the school’s breakfast program which provides all children with a nutritious meal to start the day. Principal Bill Beaucage and teacher Marlo Beaucage gave a tour of the school, which was designed to incorporate Indigenous culture. Teacher candidates were introduced to the school’s educators and spent some time in the classrooms they will be working in next spring.

In the afternoon, students were invited to participate in a manoomin (wild rice) ceremony with the Grade 5-8 students. Manoomin grows in water and needs to be gathered by knocking the grains into a canoe. The challenge is to retrieve the manoomin before birds and other wildlife have the chance.

Before students arrived, the school’s Choose Life team canoed through a nearby body of water and gathered manoomin in preparation for the ceremony. Choose Life is made up of land-based educators Darren Matasawagon and Wayne Boucher, and mental health counsellor Don McCleod, who focus on student well-being through the revitalization of Anishinaabe culture and language.

Students, staff and faculty at The Robertson Program overlook Esnagami Lake on a visit to Aroland First Nation as part of a new student teacher placement initiative that will launch in spring 2020. 

After manoomin is gathered, there are still four additional steps before it is ready to be cooked. Marlo began this process by sharing a Anishinaabemowin drum song that has traditionally been sung to call children in from the bush to help. Teacher candidates had the opportunity to learn and work alongside Johnny Therriault students to clean, bawishkam (thresh) and gaapizan (roast), mimigoshkan (dance), and baasan (winnow) the manoomin. The day ended with a question and answer period with educators at the school so teacher candidates could learn more about life and culture in Aroland. 

The second day began with a school assembly to celebrate students who had demonstrated the grandfather teaching of respect. Elder Nora Atlookan led the school in a smudge to ensure the assembly was started off in a good way. Guests were also presented with medicine pouches so that they could participate in ceremony in the future.

The Choose Life team showed teacher candidates the school's new cabins that will be used for on-the-land learning. Don taught the group about traditional medicines found in the plants and trees surrounding the cabins.

On their journey home, the future teachers felt inspired and excited to return in April.

This blog originally appeared on The Robertson Program for Inquiry-Based Teaching in Mathematics and Science website.