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Consultant finds passion in Aboriginal teaching

Growing up in the remote commu­nity of Eabametoong First Nation , Rachel Mishenene never placed any great emphasis on getting an educa­tion, much less pursuing a career.
Rachel Mishenene won a Nishnawbe Aski Development Fund award in 2012 for her consulting business which provides Aboriginal resource material for the educational sector, publishing and other organizations.

Growing up in the remote commu­nity of Eabametoong First Nation, Rachel Mishenene never placed any great emphasis on getting an educa­tion, much less pursuing a career.

“I was a high school dropout and a young mom,” said the Thunder Bay-based Aborig­inal educator and consultant. “Education was something I had no interest in going into or being a part of.”

It was only when her infant son – now 20 years old – turned the age of two did reality finally sink in.

“I needed a better life for myself and for him, and the only way was to go back and get my Grade 12 equivalency.”

Enrolling in Confederation College's Aboriginal Law and Advocacy program turned out to be a life-changing experience. “It really was an eye-opener.”

Today, her resumé includes a masters of education, bachelors of education and art, and she is a PhD student focusing her re­search on parental engagement in First Na­tion communities.

Her passion for teaching Aboriginal his­tory and perspectives has been spun out into a fledgling business – Rachel A. Mis­senene Consulting Curriculum Develop­ment and Education – which won Nish­nawbe Aski Development Fund's New Busi­ness of the Year Award last October.

Beginning as an elementary school teach­er in 2003, Mishenene taught in Dryden and at Dennis Franklin Cromarty, a Thunder Bay Aboriginal high school, before she took on the task to develop curriculum for the Urban Aboriginal Education Project with the Lakehead District School Board.

The board was one of three to receive a $1-million grant from the Ministry of Edu­cation for a kind of cultural diversity pro­gram to inject Aboriginal content and per­spectives into the curriculum to meet the board's literacy goals.

“I took whatever they had on paper and made it reality,” said Mishenene.

She developed a six-day teaching module for a Grade 10 civics course outlining the diversity of First Nation, Metis and Inuit people across Canada; their history, trea­ties, the Indian Act and the impact of resi­dential schools.

She visited classrooms, hosted teach­ers' workshops and established the First Peoples' Resource Collection, a selection of books written by Aboriginal authors or containing Native content and perspectives.

The pull to go into consulting was spawned from her decision to leave the school board to pursue her master's of edu­cation degree.

“I still needed to create an income for myself and what better way to do that than to find work that I enjoy doing and that I'm passionate about. Things just fell into place.”

More encouragement to go into business for herself came from her mentor, Murray Waboose, the education department man­ager with the Matawa First Nations, with whom she was developing a GED (General Education Development) program.

Today, she reviews and creates a range of course material, curriculum, teaching kits and co-authors textbooks for clients like Negahneewin College, Confederation College, Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario, Ontario Teachers' Federation, Ningwakwe Learning Press and McGraw-Hill Ryerson.

As a prominent Thunder Bay activist in gay-lesbian awareness and homeless is­sues, Mishenene is a “full supporter” of Idle No More, a national movement she calls a unifying force for Aboriginal people to stand up for their treaty rights, protect the environment, and to educate others on “how Canada became Canada.”

In Thunder Bay, Aboriginal people make up 16 per cent of the city's population, ac­cording to the Ontario Ministry of Aborigi­nal Affairs.

But some high-profile incidents of racism locally have Mishenene thinking there's plenty more work to do.

“In any community there's always going to be racism, but everything we do that's positive is one step forward to creating an environment that is accepting and welcom­ing to all diversity.”

She believes more organizations should make cultural awareness and sensitivity training workshops available to their staff.

“What I'd like to do is educate people and help remove and eliminate stereotypes and misconceptions, and give more awareness of Aboriginal history and the connection from history to today, so people have a broader, more sensible understanding.”