Education’s 100: Indigenous Education Leaders I
Deborah Jeffrey, BEd '83
Advocate for Aboriginal education at the local, provincial, and national levels, Deborah Jeffrey has spent nearly 30 years as an educator in British Columbia.
Shortly after graduating from the University of British Columbia with a Bachelor of Education in 1983, Jeffrey entered the Prince Rupert School District as an educator and coordinator of First Nations programs and services. She later returned to UBC in 1988 to complete a Diploma in Special Education. Member of the Tsimshian Nation from Northwest BC, Jeffrey accepted the role of president of the Tsimshian Tribal Council, taking leave from the Prince Rupert School District and working with seven communities to advance the interests of the Tsimshian Nation.
In 1999, Jeffrey completed a Master of Education and a Bachelor of Laws in 2007, and was called to the bar the following year. She has worked to advance Aboriginal education through a number of roles, including as co-chair of the BC Teachers’ Federation Task Force on Aboriginal Education, co-chair of the National Working Group on First Nations Education, and as a member of the First Nations Education Steering Committee (FNESC) executive for over ten years.
In 2011 Jeffrey was appointed executive director of FNESC. As part of her role, she collaborates with leaders of 104 First Nations communities, and is a member of the K-12 Aboriginal Education Partners Table. The partnership brings together representatives from among the most significant stakeholders in the BC education system, including the BC Ministry of Education, Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, BC Teachers’ Federation, and the BC Superintendents Association.
DeDe DeRose, BEd '81, MEd '93
British Columbia’s first Superintendent of Aboriginal Achievement, DeDe DeRose is a prominent advocate for Aboriginal student success.
Born in Williams Lake to a Secwepempc family and as a member of the Esketemc First Nation, DeRose graduated from UBC’s Indigenous Teacher’s Education Program (NITEP) with a Bachelor of Education in 1981. She also earned a Diploma in Education in 1990, and completed the UBC Ts”kel Master’s Program in 1993. DeRose taught in the Cariboo Chilcotin School District for nine years, and then served as principal for various elementary schools in the Kamloops/Thompson School District for nearly two decades.
During her career as an educator, DeRose advocated for the inclusion of Aboriginal languages, history, and culture in the school curriculum. A community organizer, she sought the genuine involvement of parents, caregivers, and local communities in her schools. She served as the first Aboriginal educator at the former BC College of Teachers for over eight years, and has chaired and co-chaired the First Nations Education Council at UBC for 13 years. In 2005, DeRose was awarded the inaugural Teacher Educator Award from the Association of BC Deans of Education for her work in supporting and promoting teacher education at the school level.
In 2012, DeRose was appointed to the BC Ministry of Education as the first ever Superintendent of Aboriginal Achievement. The position was created to improve the rates of high-school graduation for Aboriginal youth, which is on average 30% lower than non-Aboriginal students.
Dr. Ethel Gardner, BEd '84, MEd '86
Key contributor to Aboriginal language revitalization and Aboriginal education, Ethel Gardner has made a significant impact over the last three decades.
A Stó:lō member of the Skwah First Nation in BC, Gardner has earned four degrees over the course of her academic career, including a Bachelor of Education from the University of British Columbia’s Indigenous Teacher Education Program (NITEP) in 1984 and a Master of Education from UBC’s Ts’‘kel program in 1986.
In her work revitalizing Indigenous languages, Gardner relied largely on technological innovation. She developed an electronic master-apprentice language-learning program that combined human knowledge and computer programming. With three Elders as the program’s first masters, the software helped train future educators to be fluent in Stó:lō Halq'eméylem. The strength of her academic work earned her substantial research grants in her field, including the E-Master-Apprentice Pedagogy for Critically Endangered Languages and the Language Planning for Anishinaabemowin Revitalization in Grand Council Treaty #3.
Gardner has been highly praised for designing innovative teacher education programs. Her training modules make use of computer-assisted instruction, web-based writing and teaching tools, and audiovisual web communication techniques. Educators who have mastered the electronic program are able to coach students remotely.
Gardner has held a number of leadership positions in academia, most recently at the University of Alberta in a lead role with the Canadian Indigenous Languages and Literacy Development Institute in the Faculty of Education. Although retired, Gardner continues to work as an Elder scholar at a number of post-secondary institutions in BC.
Gayle Bedard, BEd '84, MEd '98
Aboriginal education advocate Gayle Bedard served the First Nations community in her role with the Ministry of Education, and through the direction of councils and programs. During her more than 30-year career, Bedard was an elementary and secondary school teacher, counsellor, principal, and district principal for Aboriginal education in the Surrey school district.
Bedard, a Tsimshian member of the First Nations community of Port Simpson (Lax Kw’alaams), devoted herself to building bridges between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal communities. As district principal, she used curriculum changes as a tool to support this connection. In Bedard’s view, when Aboriginal education is part of the curriculum, there is no need for a separate Aboriginal education department. Bedard adapted curricula to include education of territorial history to promote feelings of pride and belonging among Indigenous communities. In her role, Bedard addressed the issue of Aboriginal student graduation rates with the British Columbia Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
Bedard holds multiple degrees from the University of British Columbia. She graduated in 1984 with a Bachelor of Education from the Indigenous Teacher Education Program (NITEP), and a Master of Education and Leadership in 1998.
Currently, she is the director of First Nations programs and partnerships for the Yukon government and community services director of the Tsawwassen First Nation. She served on the advisory board for NITEP, the First Nations Education Council, and is president of Gwa’lgum’ax (GGAX) Consulting.
Joan Palmantier Gentles, O.B.C., BEd '80
Leader and educator, Joan Gentles has made a significant contribution through many different roles over the course of her career, including rodeo judge. Well-known in the Cariboo-Chilcotin Coast communities, Gentles has a deep and meaningful impact on the lives of many of the region’s residents.
A member of the Toosey Band, Gentles was the first Aboriginal courtworker in the Williams Lake area. She played an instrumental role in sensitizing the courts, lawyers, and law enforcement officials to justice issues among Aboriginal people.
She went on to earn a Bachelor of Education from the Indigenous Teacher Education Program (NITEP) at the University of British Columbia in 1980, after which she became Aboriginal education coordinator of the Cariboo-Chilcotin School District. In 1994, Gentles advanced to director of instruction for the First Nations department of the school board.
Working in remote areas, her career as an educator also included counselling for victims of family violence or sexual abuse and delivering workshops on alcohol abuse awareness. Outside of the classroom, she taught ceremonial dancing and shared parenting skills with teenagers and adults. A member of a distinguished Cariboo rodeo family, Gentles actively competed in rodeos, and was the first certified female rodeo judge in British Columbia.
In 1992, she was appointed to the Order of BC for her community contributions. For her long-standing service to Aboriginal communities, Gentles received a special tribute at the International Women’s Day dinner at Thompson Rivers University in 2012. She was also named Williams Lake Citizen of the Year and received a BC Rodeo Lifetime Achievement Award.
John Chenoweth, BEd '94
Educator and member of the Okanagan Nation, John Chenoweth has devoted himself to Aboriginal education at both the K-12 and the post-secondary levels for over 20 years. He teaches Aboriginal youth that everyone can be a leader, have a voice, and take ownership over his or her own life.
Chenoweth received his Bachelor of Education in 1994 from the Indigenous Teacher Education Program (NITEP) at the University of British Columbia. Later on he returned to UBC as a doctoral candidate in education. His doctoral research critically examines educational transition among Aboriginal adults. He considers specifically those adults who failed to complete high school, then go on to earn a secondary school diploma or equivalent, and later advance to post-secondary college education.
Aligned with the broad themes of his research, Chenoweth co-established Steps Forward, a program dedicated to helping people with special needs make the transition out of high school to post-secondary institutions. In 2012, he was recognized with the National Inclusive Education Award by the British Columbia Association for Community Living (now Inclusion BC).
Chenoweth held positions as an elementary school principal and as district principal for First Nations education. He is currently dean of community education and applied programs at the Nicola Valley Institute of Technology (NVIT), Canada’s only provincially-funded Aboriginal post-secondary institution.
Over the course of his career, Chenoweth participated in three distinct strategies to improve Aboriginal success in the education system. He explored the need for more Aboriginal teachers within BC through First Nations steering committee projects. He advocated for promotion of Aboriginal educators into roles of leadership, such as school principals and district administrators. Additionally, he lobbied for and continues to expand programs at NVIT.
Dr. Madeleine MacIvor, BEd '87, MA '93, EdD '12
Educator Madeleine MacIvor was among 11 Aboriginal doctoral students to graduate from the University of British Columbia’s Faculty of Education in 2012. It was the largest group of Aboriginal students to graduate with doctoral degrees from any Canadian university education faculty in one year. MacIvor graduated from the Indigenous Teacher Education Program (NITEP) at UBC with a Bachelor of Education in 1987. For her master’s degree in 1993, she described how science and technology education was used in the 1800s to undermine Indigenous peoples’ belief systems and organizational structures, while at the same time promoting Christianity and Victorian work values. Subsequently, MacIvor became interested in incorporating Aboriginal perspectives into school science. Her 1995 work, Redefining Science Education for Aboriginal Students is still cited in discussions of Indigenous science education.
Turning her analytical lens to more recent times, her doctoral dissertation provided a crucial record of changes in Aboriginal post-secondary education policy in BC from 1986 to 2011.
MacIvor, now retired, began working at UBC in 1989. Her roles included First Nations coordinator for the Faculty of Forestry, coordinator of student services for the First Nations House of Learning (FNHL), and later FNHL’s associate and acting director. Early in her career, she developed a summer science program for Aboriginal students that continues to run annually at UBC. During her time in the Faculty of Forestry, she encouraged and supported Aboriginal students, and improved enrolment and retention.
MacIvor received UBC’s Harry E. Taylor Canadian Indigenous Graduate Prize in Education in 2005. Five years later, she received UBC’s Jean Barman Prize in Indigenous Education. In 2011 she received a Doctorate of Letters, honoris causa from the University of the Fraser Valley for her work in Aboriginal education.
Nathan Matthew, BPE '72, MEd '90
Strategist, negotiator, and spokesperson for First Nations peoples, Nathan Matthew has focused on quality education for Aboriginal people for more than 35 years. He is a leader in the local, provincial, and national dialogue on self-determination for Aboriginal education.
Matthew received a Bachelor of Physical Education and Recreation in 1972 and a Master of Education in 1990 from the University of British Columbia. He served as chief of the Simpcw First Nation for 17 years and also served two terms as chairman of the Shuswap Nation Tribal Council. He was instrumental in the development of the Secwepemc Fisheries Commission and the Secwepemc Cultural Education Society.
For eight years, Matthew represented the First Nations Education Council (School District 73), a consultative body he helped found. From 2008 to 2014, he served as the first executive director of Aboriginal education at Thompson Rivers University, and for 20 years, he directed a summer course on principals of First Nations education at UBC.
As a political negotiator, Matthew played a key role in the passage of the landmark Tripartite Education Framework Agreement between the federal and provincial governments. A historic agreement, it paved the way for First Nations self-government in education by guaranteeing to First Nations schools the same rights as other educational institutions. Related to this work, he served as chair of the chief’s committee on the National Education Committee for the Assembly of First Nations and advisor to the BC First Nations Education Steering Committee (FNESC) and the First Nations Schools Association (FNSA).
Dr. Richard Atleo, BA '68, MEd '76, EdD '90
Hereditary chief of the Ahousaht First Nation, Richard Atleo is recognized as the first Aboriginal person in British Columbia to earn a doctoral degree. Both his education and work show his commitment to First Nations studies and education. He is the author of Principles of Tsawalk: An Indigenous Approach to Global Crisis, which introduces origin stories and draws on the ontological meaning of indigenous culture.
The University of British Columbia alumnus graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in 1968, a Master of Education in 1976, and Doctor of Education in 1990. Upon completing his doctorate, Atleo conducted province-wide research into First Nations K-12 education in BC, in response to the Hawthorn Report of 1966-67.
Atleo’s contributions include the creation of the First Nations Studies Department at Malaspina University College (now Vancouver Island University), where he also taught from 1994 to 2004. He taught and led research in several other post-secondary educational institutions, including the University of Victoria, University of Manitoba, Simon Fraser University, and UBC. Additionally, he lectured overseas in Poland and Germany. Beyond his roles in academia, Atleo was a social worker, elementary school teacher, principal, federal ministerial assistant, and assistant superintendent of education.
Atleo received the Equity Award from the Canadian Association of University Teachers, where he served as a member of the Equity Committee since its inception. His contributions extend to other organizations, including roles as co-chair of the Scientific Panel for Sustainable Forest Practices in Clayoquot Sound, and as a member of the board of Ecotrust Canada.
Dr. Shelly Johnson, EdD '11
Educator and researcher, Shelly Johnson has spent more than two decades working for Aboriginal communities.
In 2011, Johnson earned her Doctor of Education in Educational Leadership and Policy at the University of British Columbia and then joined the Faculty of Social Work as an assistant professor. Her doctoral thesis I Screamed Internally for a Long Time: Traumatized Urban Indigenous Children in Canadian Child Protection and Education Systems examined the over-representation of First Nations children in the child protection system, and the social and political forces that put them at risk.
Johnson draws on both her personal and professional experiences to teach future generations of social workers. She is a member of the Keeseekoose First Nation in Saskatchewan, and served as chief executive officer of a First Nations child and family services agency in Victoria. She serves on the board of directors of the Canadian Association of Social Work Education and chairs the national Indigenous Social Work Educators Network.
Johnson is currently the principal investigator on four research projects, including one to support Musqueam culture and language revitalization, funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC). She is part of a national multi-year SSHRC grant to conduct community-based urban Indigenous research. In 2013, Johnson was named the UBC Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies Early Career Scholar, in support of her research on indigenizing higher education, cultural self-determination and activism.
In 2008, Johnson was recognized with a Governor General’s Canadian Leadership Award, and received an Honorary Citizen of the Year award from the City of Victoria, BC in 2006.
Victor Jim, BEd '78, MEd '99
Educator, administrator and member of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation, Victor Jim is a dedicated advocate for Aboriginal student education in British Columbia.
Jim was among the members of the first graduating class of the University of British Columbia’s Indigenous Teacher Education Program (NITEP) in the spring of 1978. He subsequently received his Master of Education from the UBC Ts”Kel program in 1999.
After teaching in Kispiox, for two years, and Moricetown, for eighteen, Jim became the Aboriginal education district principal for Prince George. Graduation rates for Aboriginal students in Prince George have climbed from 31 to 56 percent over the last ten years. Jim intends to further improve rates under his leadership, aiming for 60 to 65% over the coming years. He credits recent success to the establishment of Nusdeh Yoh, the province's first Aboriginal choice school, as well as efforts to include Aboriginal workers at the district's other schools. The workers encourage students to reach their educational goals and intervene if they begin to falter. Jim also serves as the chair of the Moricetown Band Council Education Committee, co-chair of the First Nations Education Council, and on NITEP’s advisory board.
Jim's early participation in NITEP made him a trailblazer in his community, passing his passion for education on to his students as well as his children. In 2012, his eldest son graduated from medical school to become Moricetown's first doctor; his daughter plans to become an educator herself.