Friday, August 14, 2009

Celebrating Kanani Penashue's convocation

Memorial's Gazette recently published a bio of Kanani Penashue on the occasion of her receiving her BEd (Native and Northern). Kanani speaks Innu, and has taken Innu linguistics at Memorial. (Her bio is about half-way down the page.)


  1. I just learned of Kanani's graduation and I am so thrilled and proud of her. As a first year teacher, I taught Kanani a course in high school English at Peenamin McKenzie School in Sheshatshiu. We were both learning at that time! She was challenged by the language elements and requirements of the course but I could tell that she had great insight and intelligence. I remember how blown away I was by a poem that she wrote and shared with me, around the theme of home and decisions to leave or stay that we all struggle with eventually. It showed her values for family, community and culture that she carries to this day. Her developing use of English language actually served the poem well, as the brevity of her phrasing lent a poignancy to the poet's longing to balance her thirst for the outside world with her cultural pride and sense of place. I still have a copy of that poem.

    When I started a teaching career in 1991 in Sheshatshiu, it was a baptism of fire in many ways. I was too green to burn as a new teacher. I had no knowledge of the Innu culture going into this job. Native and Northern Education was not at all a part of my teacher education program (in many ways it was still developing as a "division" of the Faculty of Education). I did not have the awareness or sense to do that research on my own between being hired in mid-July and leaving for Labrador in late-August. Neither the Labrador
    school board nor the school itself provided me any kind of formal orientation to the Innu culture or the community I was teaching in. I was teaching my grade nine students from the same Canadian social studies text book that I had studied in grade nine about 10 years before (who knows how old it was then in 1982). This text had so few meaningful references to First Nations cultures and the only thing I remembered learning about aboriginal people centred around the Louis Riel's rebellion. Where were these students to learn the positive
    cultural references to First Nations people? How were they to learn their own Innu culture, customs and language when I was teaching them about my Canadian pioneer culture?

    I remember the day in my first year of teaching at Peenamin when the Innu Nation learned that they had been denied funding for a study to examine the feasability of forming their own school board. Innu leaders came into the school and asked us politely, teachers and students, to leave the school. We obliged and they put chain and padlock on the front door of the school. This protest lasted for about a week and I am unclear now on its result.

    Though it has been a long road for the Innu nation in these 17 intervening years, I was thrilled that they finally were able to form their own school board in 2008 and structure a curriculum that serves to preserve and celebrate their culture. In 1991, when I met Kanani, we both knew, in our own ways, that the curriculum and the education system was not serving the Innu people. I am so proud now to see Kanani as a role model educator and luminous cultural leader in her community of Sheshatshiu and to the whole Innu Nation.

  2. The post above was made by ...

    Michael Coady

    PS. If anyone has an email contact for Kanani, I would love to have it so as to pass on my congratulations to her!