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CAUT Bulletin Archives

November 2013

Creating space

My life and work in indigenous education

Verna J. Kirkness. Winnipeg, MB: University of Manitoba Press, 2013; 208 pp; ISBN: 978-0-88755-743-9, paper $34.95 CAD.

Verna 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. 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.

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