Creating Space

My Life and Work in Indigenous Education


Creating Space

Verna J. Kirkness grew up on the Fisher River Indian reserve in Manitoba. Her childhood dream to be a teacher set her on a lifelong journey in education as a teacher, counsellor, consultant, and professor. Her simple quest to teach "in a Native way" revolutionized Canadian education policy and practice.

Kirkness broke new ground at every turn. As the first cross-cultural consultant for the Manitoba Department of Education Curriculum Branch she made Cree and Ojibway the languages of instruction in several Manitoba schools. In the early 1970s she became the first Education Director for the Manitoba Indian Brotherhood (now the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs) and then Education Director for the National Indian Brotherhood (now the Assembly of First Nations). She played a pivotal role in developing the education sections of Wahbung: Our Tomorrows, which transformed Manitoba education, and the landmark 1972 national policy of Indian Control of Indian Education. These two major works have shaped First Nations education in Canada for more than 40 years.

In the 1980s she became an assistant professor at the University of British Columbia where she was appointed Director of the Native Teacher Education Program, founded the Ts’‘Kel Graduate Program, and was a driving force behind the creation of the First Nations House of Learning. Honoured by community and country, Kirkness is a visionary who has inspired, and been inspired by, generations of students.

Like a long conversation between friends, Creating Space reveals the challenges and misgivings, the burning questions, the successes and failures that have shaped the life of this extraordinary woman and the history of Aboriginal education in Canada.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents
Cover 1
Contents 6
List of Photographs 8
Acknowledgements 10
Foreword 11
Preface 13
Note on Terminology 15
Chapter One: My Family 18
Elementary and High School 27
Chapter Two: My Teaching Career 33
Reedy Creek and Bellhampton 33
Going to Normal School 37
Fisher River 40
Birtle Indian Residential School 44
Rossville Indian Residential and Day School in Norway House 49
Chapter Three: Beyond Teaching 56
Counselling in Winnipeg 56
Supervisor of Schools 65
Cross-Cultural Education Consultant 77
Photo Section 1 82
Manitoba Indian Brotherhood 90
Chapter Four: Working Provinciallyand Nationally 90
A Year at University 98
The National Indian Brotherhood 100
Travelling to Israel 107
Freelance Consultant 109
“Not a Prophet in Your Own Land” 116
Chapter Five: The University of British Columbia 121
Native Indian Teacher Educaiton Program 121
Ts’‘kel is Born 143
The First Nations House of Learning 148
Study Tours to Aotearoa (New Zealand) 162
Feasibility Study on an Aboriginal Languages Institute 166
The First Nations Longhouse 168
Chapter Six: Retirement 176
Chapter Seven: Leaving Vancouver 201
Epilogue: Upon Reflection 210
Appendix 1: Awards and Honours 213
Appendix 2: Bibliography of Selected Publications 215
Books and Book Chapters 215
Articles in Journals 217
Appendix 3: Archival Collections at the University of British Columbia 219
Index 220