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First Nations guests from British Columbia visit Professor Jegatheesan’s College of Education Course

October 31, 2010

Brinda Jegatheesan joined the Center as an Affiliated Faculty in Spring 2008.

Three Cowichan First Nations Elders (a medicine woman, a native language teacher and a social worker) visited the UW campus in October 2010. The elders are currently working with Dr. Brinda Jegatheesan (Assistant Professor, College of Education) in her research studies on native language preservation and loss, and human-animal interaction and its impact on vulnerable native children. The elders live on a reservation on Vancouver Island, British Columbia.

The elders presented in Jegatheesan’s undergraduate course, EDSPE 419 Families with Young Children with Special and Diverse Needs. The course consisted of 88 Early Childhood seniors and juniors in the College of Education. Using ceremonial drums and rattles, the elders sang, prayed and narrated stories on various issues that impacted native families and their children. As elders who survived the residential schools, they talked about the impact of these schools at the societal, familial and individual level. The stressed on the loss of language, culture, traditional knowledge and parenting skills, loss of connections to relatives and community and a loss of identity. They spoke to the importance of culture and language preservation in young native children, the learning styles that were unique to these children, indigenous beliefs about children with special needs and traditional health and wellness intervention practices.

Majority of the undergraduate students revealed that they were unaware of the residential schools and that their exposure to native people was through books and cinemas, making it a first time for them to meet native people ‘face to face.’ The elders made a personal request to the undergraduate students, as the next generation of teachers and service providers, to be culturally responsive and compassionate to the needs of native families and children, and most importantly to believe that native children can learn and be successful in schools.

Brinda Jegatheesan is an Assistant Professor in the College of Education and Affiliated Faculty with the Canadian Studies Center. In the summer of 2010 she was awarded a Center research grant to further her research project on First Nation language preservation on Vancouver Island and has a program grant in 2011 to further First Nation guest visits to the UW. These projects are supported, in part, by funding from the Center’s Program Enhancement Grant, Foreign Affairs and International Trade, Government of Canada and Title VI grant, US Department of Education, Office of International Education Programs Service.