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Indigenous Education Week: Meet two student researchers who are powered by community

November 20, 2020

By Perry King
 

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Photo of Tiana Bone (left) and Jordan McVittie, two OISE students on a mission to create healthier communities for Indigenous peoples.
 

The year 2020 has been a year where systemic injustices have been amplified and exposed as detrimental barriers to health and wellbeing. As the University of Toronto and OISE mark Indigenous Education Week, focused on the theme of grassroots and community-building initiatives, OISE News wanted to highlight two Indigenous students who have a passion for education as a tool for creating healthier communities.


Tiana Bone and Jordan McVittie may come from different places but they come to OISE with a similar purpose.

McVittie, who is in her second year of the Master of Arts in School and Clinical Child Psychology program, always wanted to work with children. While working as a tutor in her hometown Haileybury, Ontario, McVittie, a proud member of Timiskaming First Nation, realized there was an extreme lack of psychological services available to her community.

And so, under the supervision of Jeffrey Ansloos, an Assistant Professor in OISE’s department of applied psychology and human development, McVittie’s graduate research is focused on understanding and contextualizing occurrences of Indigenous child suicide.

“It's the first research of its kind in Canada,” says McVittie, who volunteered as a tutor for schools in her hometown and on the reserve. Working with Ansloos, the Canada Research Chair in Critical Studies in Indigenous Health and Social Action on Suicide, McVittie hopes to speak with communities, with families, in 2021.

McVittie, a graduate of Nipissing University, is enthused to get going and wants to make a direct impact. After taking on undergraduate research that was important but not really of her interests, she wanted to take on subject material that would make a difference. “I’m constantly reminding myself that if this research helps one child at the end of it, then I've done something right,” she says.

Bone, who is Anishinaabe from Keeseekoowenin Ojibway First Nation in Treaty 2 territory within Manitoba, has accessed Indigenous knowledge in many ways – through her community, through local friendship centres and summer camps. But her journey turned a corner during her third year of undergraduate studies at the University of British Columbia.

Apart from getting involved in Indigenous and social justice movements and initiatives on campus, Bone’s interest in land-based education was sparked when she learned about UBC’s partnership with the Yellowknife-based Dechinta Centre for Research and Learning.

“I heard about a program they [Dechinta] were doing through a friend who attended. I later interviewed Yellowknives Dene scholar and Dechinta co-founder Glen Coulthard about it for a class project,” said Bone, who is beginning her Master of Arts in social justice education. “It was really exciting to talk with him about how they were getting students to go up there for a class for such an immersive land-based education course."

“And after hearing about that, I was really interested in learning more about what land-based education – what it does and who it's for.”

After learning more about land-based education work, and other experiences back home, Bone became interested in identifying barriers to Indigenous youth accessing cultural and ceremonial spaces. She arrives at OISE looking to create land-based education curricula for her home community and beyond – curriculum that promotes inclusivity and non-heteronormative ideals in her community, she says.

“I want to better understand and help address how internalized colonialism has affected communities and their way of thinking about what is traditional and what defines our culture,” said Bone, who is only a few months into her time at OISE.

Transitioning to OISE – taking on new research projects, and finding community within a large urban place like Toronto – was tough for each of them at first. But, they found support systems through the Indigenous Education Network and other sources of mentorship and with a sense of purpose through the importance of their work.

Dr. Ansloos is an incredible mentor, says McVittie, and she hopes their research will generate valuable resources to support teacher education, mental health, and social services – while also expanding the scholarly understanding of suicide to support Indigenous childhood mental health and wellbeing in Canada.

“I want to do it justice,” she says. McVittie does feel pressure here but knows she’s not alone in this work. “I do feel pressure but it's going to be extremely important. The outcomes that come from this are important.”

McVittie wants to be a leader on this, to start a conversation. “I think for me, it goes back to that idea of responsibility,” she says. “This will not be an easy thing for family members to talk about.”

“Dr. Ansloos handles his projects with so much care,” she adds, “so being under his lead, and knowing that these stories from these families will not be exploited, I think that's what's the most important to me on this project.”

Bone agrees – she feels Indigenous researchers have essential roles to play in education. “I think it’s important for Indigenous people to be leading Indigenous research because most of the methodological approaches that Indigenous people want to see require their understanding and expertise. It's harder for non-Indigenous people to grasp them,” she says.

“There's such a harmful history of research on Indigenous people that’s been done in an exploitive manner, and so a lot of people don't want to participate in research – unless it’s with an Indigenous person leading the team.”

Bone intends to work towards a PhD. While her transition to OISE is still new, it is fuelled by the support she receives from her community.

“They're actually supporting a lot of my education and a lot of things I've been able to do through my education,” she says, “they've helped fund me and support me.”

“I just really want to be able to take back whatever research I'm doing. I don't want to do research that is just going towards the academic community. I want my learning to have a very tangible impact on my home communities.”
 

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