Knowledge Keepers by the Ontario College of Teachers

NEIL – I’ve known Debbie, uh, my whole life. She was a friend first and, and then a colleague as, as we taught at Lakeview School together. She’s easy to work with, she’s very professional,
she takes the job very seriously because it’s such a huge responsibility. JOSEPH – I’ve known her all of her life. Besides her being a teacher, she’s a great volunteer. Very involved in the community here. DEANA – She’s my rock. She’s, um, very inspiring, motivating. She taught me the difference between
right and wrong, how to make responsible decisions. And growing up, uh, like I said, I would
have thought she was very strict, but now I look back and I realize it was
all part of good parenting and she made me who I am today. MELVINA – We’ve got three daughters and they’re all teachers. After school in our living room they’d be playing school. They’d just get home from school and
they’d get all the, uh, the extra spares teacher had. They’d bring them home.
And they’d be playing, of course, with my stuff too. DEBBIE – Making a film, I never thought that my story would come, be told in, in a, in a film version. I always thought, you know, I wrote it,
I know it, it’s, it’s in my heart here. NEIL – I mean, our statistics show that our graduation
rates are thirty percent nationally. The why to that question is, is, is, you know,
a very in-depth and more complicated answer. And if I had to give a one word answer,
it would be poverty. And understanding why that poverty is there,
that opens the door to the dependence cycle. DEBBIE – We, like any community have social issues that, that we’re dealing with. You know, we have alcoholism, we have drug, um,
dependency issues. We have, you know, we have all forms of violence, but we have those because we have so many
underlying issues that we’re dealing with. NEIL – Uh, she knows that, um, the whole notion of First Nations education is, is to, to reclaim that responsibility that was once ours. And, and, and make it ours, uh, again. In order to do it properly, we need to
infuse language and culture back into the curriculum. JOSEPH – And hopefully as young people learn more
and more about what they are all about, what their ancestors were all about and
what the ancestors and elders believed in, they will make a decision that, uh,
you know, there’s a better life for me out there. DEANA – You see something that connected, that connects you to your culture and that alone just gives you a sense of pride, and let that kid have a sense of pride in
the classroom. So that kid could open up to the rest of
the class and hopefully sh-share their story. DEBBIE – It’s critical that our, our children learn
who they are and about themselves, their culture and traditions and keeping
those alive. And it’s our culture and traditions that
make us stronger.DEBBIE –DEBBIE – My English name is Debbie Debassige. I’m from M’Chigeeng First Nation, and I’m from the Crane Clan. I came from a large family of hard workers,
growing up on M’Chigeeng First Nation on Manitoulin Island. Being the middle child of seven children,
I learned hard work from a young age. Watching my dad haul logs, and grandpa
feeding the cows. Mom cooking supper,
while Grandma was weeding in the garden. We all helped out. We learned that life was never easy, there was always work that needed to be
done to support the family. Growing up I would come home to see my mom
marking books and cooking supper at the same time. And I just thought that was the coolest thing. Right after school, I would turn myself into the teacher
and I would coax my little sisters into being the students. That’s where my dream began.
I wanted to be a teacher just like my mom. But a few years after high school,
I found myself working as a single mother. Raising a child and moving from job to job,
with no post-secondary education, was an experience of discovering what I
did NOT want to do. One day, I received a rock from one of my relatives,
who was also a teacher. And she told me, “If you ever need direction,
hold this rock in your left hand
and ask the creator for guidance.” I thought it was magic.
This rock held a special place in my heart. All through school,
I was encouraged to live life to the fullest. But the world looks different when you grow up
and I was unsure if I could still be a teacher. I felt pulled away from school, because I had to work,
to support my family as a single parent. Just when I was about to turn away for
good from the dream of teaching, my grandmother received her acceptance letter
into university at the age of 74. Feeling much pride I said,
“If grandma can do it, so can I!” Grandma was already a teacher in the
traditional sense. She was a pipe carrier and a knowledge keeper,
but she wanted a formal education. I remember walking down the hallway,
where I was working, for one last time, saying goodbye to what could have been. Job after job; not knowing for how long,
and living with uncertainty, now, my inspiration was awakened. And my dream was alive. Those university doors welcomed us both. And I was proud to sit in the same class
as Grandma. I showed her off to everyone,
telling them she was my Grandma… my foundation, my rock. I had such pride in my family,
and that gave me the inspiration to finish my schooling. This was also a family expectation
that was held in high regard. I felt how right it was to be following in their footsteps,
felt the powerful lineage that had been created: three generations of university graduates. Under us all, there was the Creator,
who we knew was there to guide us. It was my university education and my grandmother’s teachings that helped me discover my culture and traditions. And knowing my roots, I felt connected. I raised my own daughter. My mom’s footsteps stretched ahead of me,
and my daughter’s behind. I had reached my dream of becoming a teacher. And now I was bringing those school books home
and marking them while supper was cooking. A few years ago, my eldest daughter graduated from university, making her the 4th generation university graduate. We now have four generations of teachers
in our family. Today, after many years of teaching,
my dream extended to an administrative position – and I love it. I knew I was being called to change,
and I took the leap, not knowing if I would succeed. After a struggle for change,
I learned to believe in myself, when others didn’t. Believing in myself gained the respect of many,
as my dreams continue to unfold. Allow your students, allow your children,
to follow their dreams. Always be there to support and encourage
them as they travel along their life’s journey.

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