For World Teachers’ Day, we want to give recognition and thanks to all the teachers who go above and beyond in the way of elevating education and providing solid foundations, opportunities, and inspiration for the leaders of tomorrow. Of special note are the following Indigenous teachers who have worked hard to bring Indigenous knowledge, fair treatment, and representation into the classroom for countless students and teachers across Canada.
1. Verna Kirkness is from Fisher River Cree Nation in Manitoba. Her many accomplishments and tireless work in education since 1959 still provide inspiration and opportunities to students today. The Verna J. Kirkness Education Foundation was founded in 2008 to address the under-representation of First Nations, Métis, and Inuit students at Canadian universities by offering scholarships and providing outreach programs and role models for Indigenous high school students. Verna has authored nine books, including Creating Space – My Life and Work in Indigenous Education (University of Manitoba Press).
2. Tsnomot Brad Baker is a member of Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Úxwumixw (Squamish Nation) and the first Indigenous teacher in North Vancouver, BC. Brad has worked for decades to enhance the awareness and values of Indigenous education through his presentations across Canada and the United States, providing inspiration for students and teachers alike, as well as his more recent role with the BC Ministry of Education where he has been able to directly guide all 60 school districts in the Province of BC.
His most popular mottos include:
“Truth before reconciliation.” “Go forward with courage.”
Photo: North Vancouver School District
3. Irene Kelleher was born in Matsqui, BC, of Indigenous and European heritage and the first female Indigenous teacher in BC. Throughout her long life of 102 years, Irene persevered in various racist environments that strongly disfavoured those of mixed descent, essentially pioneering the way for future Indigenous teachers and students who now draw inspiration from her tenacity to thrive in hostile conditions. Her work and life is now detailed and recognized in the book Invisible Generations: Living Between Indigenous and White in the Fraser Valley, written by Jean Barman (Caitlin Press), with the book royalties being donated to the Julia Mathilda and Cornelius Kelleher Endowment Memorial Scholarship (established in Irene’s parents’ honour) and the Irene Kelleher Memorial Endowment Bursary at UFV for students of Indigenous descent.
There are many other notable teachers throughout Canada dedicated to bringing Indigenous education, reconciliation, representation, and decolonization into the classroom. They are inspiring generations of future leaders to create a kinder and more equitable Canada.
For further reading, please also check out our previous article on Education and Empowering Reconciliation on World Teachers Day.