National group recognizes Yukon teacher for bringing Indigenous culture into the classroom

·2 min read
Pat Joe, a teacher at the Individual Learning Centre in Whitehorse, was recently recognized by the Canadian Teachers’ Federation for her contributions to education in the Yukon.  (Karen Vallevand/CBC - image credit)
Pat Joe, a teacher at the Individual Learning Centre in Whitehorse, was recently recognized by the Canadian Teachers’ Federation for her contributions to education in the Yukon. (Karen Vallevand/CBC - image credit)

Pat Joe has been teaching children across the territory about Yukon First Nations cultures for over eight years. Now, she's being recognized by the Canadian Teachers' Federation for her leadership in Indigenous education.

Joe, who is a citizen of the Kwanlin Dün First Nation, currently works at the Individual Learning Centre in Whitehorse, a drop-in centre that offers self-paced programming for students of varying needs and abilities.

She said the idea to bring Indigenous storytelling into her curriculum came to her while doing research with the Yukon Government's Department of Education.

"That's when all the stories came back to me and I started looking at them differently," said Joe.

"I wanted to integrate our First Nations values into the curriculum and have students start seeing themselves in the system."

Teaching Indigenous values

Joe said these oral stories showcase Indigenous values and lessons, and she sees them as gifts from Yukon's First Nation elders.

"It's so important to keep our values and beliefs," said Joe. "Our elders have left us so much knowledge and resources and I'm so proud to be one of the people that passes this on."

Joe credits her teaching success to her grandfather, who passed along many of the stories she now shares in the classroom.

"My grandfather could not read or write, but he could read the land," said Joe. "He survived off it like his ancestors did before him and he told me the creation and oral stories that have been passed down to him for generations. So, it is to him that I owe this honour."

Many of the stories talk about animals and humans communicating and respecting each other, and she encourages her students to make these stories real by using their imagination.

Since incorporating Indigenous storytelling into her classes, Joe has noticed her students participating more and integrating their opinions.

Not only are her students more engaged, they are also helping Joe learn more about First Nations cultures.

"When I go in that classroom, even though I know quite a bit, I still learn from the little kids... from other First Nations students," Joe said.

The Canadian Teachers Federation's award pays tribute to an Outstanding Indigenous Educator. Joe was nominated for the award by the Yukon Teachers' Association.

She urges all teachers in the communities to find ways to discover and incorporate First Nations oral stories into their curriculum.

"In every community across Canada, the elders have left their oral stories behind," said Joe. "Read them, and reread them. Every time you hear them, you'll hear something else."

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