This fall, alumna Vanessa Tan will sail around Haida Gwaii to learn more about marine mammals for her upcoming children’s book, which features environmental and reconciliation themes.

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Alumna heeds reconciliation's calls to action

October 03, 2017
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By Justin Wong

This October, SFU alumna Vanessa Tan sets sail aboard the Canada C3 arctic icebreaker vessel for an expedition around Haida Gwaii.

The Canada C3 Expedition is a Signature Project for Canada's 150th anniversary of confederation in 2017. It features a 150-day sailing journey from Toronto to Victoria via the Northwest Passage to celebrate diversity and inclusion, reconciliation, youth engagement and the environment.

Tan, a teacher, is joining the ship for the Haida Gwaii leg of its journey. She hopes to gain a better understanding of marine mammals and their environment to help with her upcoming reconciliation and environment themed children’s book.

“In my classroom, I use stories to explore big ideas like reconciliation and environmental stewardship with students,” says Tan, who teaches at Woodward Hill Elementary School, an environmentally focused school in Surrey, B.C.

“Doing the research for the story Even Whale Songs Change has become an exciting project that I look forward to sharing with learners across the country.”

As an educator, Tan feels a special responsibility to inspire the next generation of Canadians to learn more about the truth of Canada’s shared history.

“My hope is that reconciliation will become a foundational aspect of K-12 classroom learning nationwide.”

Growing up in Crofton, B.C., a small coastal town on Vancouver Island, she learned her community was once home to a residential school that locals never talked about. Her curiosity prompted her to attend SFU to learn how she could some day change that.

An SFU study-abroad trip to Trinidad opened her eyes to colonization in another country and how creating space for cross-cultural learning by acknowledging students’ various cultural practices, such as holidays and music, can go a long way towards reconciliation.

“The way the Trinidadian education system promotes and celebrates all cultures proved to me how impactful an education system can be at accomplishing such a national goal, and inspires me to continue promoting the big ideas of education for reconciliation in Canada.”

Tan graduated from SFU in 2005 with a BA in anthropology and First Nations studies. In 2007, she completed SFU’s professional development program for teachers and earned a B.Ed.

Since then, she has been teaching in Surrey schools and has developed a nationally recognized learning module that gives K-12 learners a First Peoples’ worldview of reconciliation. Her module weaves together the work of First Nations artist Roy Henry Vickers with the new B.C. curriculum on big ideas and core competencies, utilizing the First Peoples Principles of Learning and the Surrey Schools District’s Developing Readers Program.

“We all have a responsibility to make a commitment to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's calls to action,” says Tan. “This is a defining moment for Canadian heritage.”