May 3, 2017
Posted in: SUNTEP
By Mandi Reigh Elles
Mandi is a graduate of the Saskatchewan Urban Native Teacher Education Program (SUNTEP).
Tanishi! Dishinikashon Mandi Elles. Regina, Saskatchewan d’ooshchiin. Hello! My name is Mandi Elles. I’m from Regina, Saskatchewan. I am a Métis woman, mother and educator. My family’s rich Métis and First Nation roots extend from Lestock, Saskatchewan to Fort Belknap, Montana in the United States. I graduated from SUNTEP Regina in 2012. I am the third graduate in my family and we are the first to obtain post-secondary degrees.
I work as a Cultural Arts educator at Seven Stones Community School. My aunt Dawne Elles is an Aboriginal Advocate teacher at Thom Collegiate while my cousin is employed on her reserve, Payepot First Nation. We have many other relatives that have completed GDI education and trades programs. Our individual experiences at GDI include crossing paths with many very special teachers and friends on our journey that have been true supporters of the successes in our lives and careers. SUNTEP/GDI provided us with a strong Métis culture based educational experience that inspired us to incorporate our Indigenous knowledge into our everyday teaching practices.
SUNTEP was a very natural career choice for me. Lifelong learning is an extension of Métis culture within our family life and communities. Our traditional ways of learning and teaching to others are all interconnected and bring balance to our personal lives as well as our communities. My father’s educational experience in Saskatchewan during the 1970’s also led me to choose education as my life’s work. As a young Indigenous child, he was disconnected from lessons and teachers and ran away from school many times. My own education was void of Métis and First Nation history and holistic learning until high school. I had many positive teachers that influenced me throughout my school years and many encouraged me to become a teacher. My family’s stories are not uncommon today and many of our Indigenous students are still feeling lost at school. This is one important reason that motivates me to continue using Indigenous language and culture in my classroom. Students can relate to the lessons being taught, share background knowledge and are able to make meaningful connections between school and their own lives. It is also an open invitation for all non-Indigenous students and teachers to become a part of the learning process while gaining insight into traditional Indigenous ways of knowing.
Working with family, students, colleagues and Elders from many nations, I blend all of our traditional teachings, languages and stories together to create a unique, holistic experience for my students. Our learning comes from practical use of basic Michif-Cree language, hands-on land based lessons, ceremony and plant medicine teachings from Elders. Our students and my own children are being nurtured by this natural way of connecting their spirits to Mother Earth and in return may learn a deep respect for themselves, others and the world around them. It is through this sharing of common values and teachings that we connect to our Indigenous students and strengthen their sense of pride and purpose. Our Indigenous students may choose to continue this work by becoming educators in the future. Although my daughter is far from university years, she has already begun to share Michif history and language lessons in her classroom!
Indigenous educators play an integral role in Canadian educational systems as the nation’s goal is to promote reconciliation by bridging gaps between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. Indigenous educators have the opportunity to construct those positive paths to bring people closer to create respectful partnerships in our country. Today, programs such as SUNTEP, not only offer career opportunities, but also the gift of learning in an environment that honours and celebrates Indigenous history and pride. SUNTEP has also served as a powerful tool in the decolonization process for many families. We are the living descendants of fur trade voyageurs, Road Allowance and residential school survivors, proud warriors, language speakers, knowledge keepers, and natural healers. Who better to share our history and stories by way of education, than us?
SUNTEP/GDI represents the true resilient spirit of Indigenous people past and present. It is the revitalization and preservation of our history, language and traditions that will carry our future generations to good ways of living.
Pimatishi, kishkayhta ekwa ahkameyimo. Live, learn and persevere/ Ekoshi.